Whole Foods opening to conclude Flower Hill upgrade


By Claire Harlin

Feb. 27 is the magic date for the Flower Hill Promenade.

After more than a year of construction, the mall serving the Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach areas is winding down the biggest project the property has seen since its initial construction nearly 40 years ago — and the overhaul will culminate with the opening of upscale grocer Whole Foods, the mall’s “anchor,” said owner Jeffrey Essakow.

Whole Foods joins seven new restaurants and six new retailers at the mall, as well as a children’s play center, a medical center, new landscaping, a 400-space parking structure, revamped courtyards and meeting spaces. Flower Hill Promenade has also undergone a complete facelift that blends the original building (constructed in 1977) with the new structures. A five-day grand opening, featuring food, fashion shows and music, will be held from Feb. 27 to March 3 at the mall, and Essakow said Whole Foods will be open on schedule, “rain, shine or hail.”

Mall operator Protea Properties had to fight to bring Whole Foods to the 30,000-square-foot space at west end of the 40-acre property, because the popular grocery chain generally builds stores totaling closer to 50,000 square feet. Essakow said he saw a successful smaller Whole Foods concept in downtown Philadelphia, and begged the company to scale down its plans for a Flower Hill location.

“We convinced them that it would be a great addition to the community,” said Essakow of the company’s eventual acquiescence. “We seemed like a promising location and model.”

The Flower Hill renovation has been almost a decade in the making, said Essakow.

“In 2003 we started working on a vision,” he said. “We’ve struggled with the project.”

Protea Properties not only clashed with local homeowners associations along the way, it endured a lengthy dispute between the California Coastal Commission and the City of San Diego over who should have authority over the project, with the City of San Diego eventually gaining jurisdiction. Shortly after the San Diego City Council’s approval of the renovation, a local citizens’ group in 2011 sued the city in an effort to overturn the decision, claiming the environmental impact report was inadequately vetted and the project was overscaled. Protea also scaled back plans after taking criticism from local cities and planning boards.

“Out with the old and in with the new” has been the theme at Flower Hill over the past year, and it started with the nearly back-to-back closings of the former Ultrastar movie theater and Bookworks book store in 2011.

While Essakow said he has been sad to see tenants go, he has been charged with replacing “dated” concepts with fresher ones.

He announced on Jan. 16 that the owners of the popular North Park restaurant Urban Solace will be moving into the former Paradise Grille space next spring, and Cucina Enoteca, a sister eatery to the popular Cucina Urbana, will fill the spot of the former Chevy’s Fresh Mex restaurant, which served the community for 20 years before it closed last October. Chipotle recently opened to take the place of Pick Up Stix, Burger Lounge will open this month, and boutique bakery Nothing Bundt Cakes took over a former hair salon spot last year. Even the adjacent gas station received a new facade to tie in with the architecture.

“The combination of new retail, new restaurants and an anchor store, Whole Foods, is key,” Essakow said.

For more information and upcoming grand opening events, visit