What began as a city improvement project to refurbish San Diego’s historic town plaza, mushroomed into one of the major downtown redevelopment plans of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972, the City Council approved an urban design plan that eventually encompassed fifteen blocks and gave the Redevelopment Agency power to purchase property and approve building proposals from private developers. Ernest W. Hahn who had previously constructed many shopping centers including Fashion Valley and Parkway Plaza received approval in 1974 to build a multi-level retail shopping center — but only if the city aggressively supported him through redevelopment of adjoining property.
Negotiations moved slowly between Hahn and the city so to facilitate matters an autonomous, non-profit corporation was formed to oversee the project. Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) began work in 1975 and all subsequent dealings were handled by them.
Construction of Horton Plaza began in 1982, ten years after approval of the original plan. Frequently the subject of controversy, and often bitter debate, the Horton Plaza Redevelopment Project encountered political scandal, financial difficulties, reluctance of major department stores to locate downtown, and opposition form preservation groups who fought demolition of historically significant buildings in the redevelopment district. In spite of setbacks, Horton Plaza opened in 1985 and the 6.5 block center was immediately successful. Some proponents believe Horton Plaza spurred the re-birth of downtown, while others feel the general resurgence of downtown San Diego made Ernest Hahn’s project a success story. From either point of view, Horton Plaza was the first successful effort to develop a retail area downtown since the rise of suburban shopping centers decades earlier.