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San Diego's Sam MarascoA Border Gateway to Binational Prosperity


The grand opening of the International Gateway of the Americas at the U.S.-Mexico border November 16 is not just the unveiling of one more shopping mall and entertainment complex. It’s a major commitment to creating a true cross-border relationship with widespread economic and social repercussions. A local development company is betting its new shopping complex will be both an indication and a beneficiary of that commitment.

“It’s in perfect step with public policy,” says an elated Sam Marasco, whose San Diego–based LandGrant Development is spearheading the $225 million redevelopment project in concert with the city of San Diego. His deal calls for Marasco to pay more than $20 million dollars in infrastructure costs that the city will pay back only with tax increment and sales tax money from his project—in other words, no sales, no payback.

But Marasco is delighted with the deal, in spite of economic uncertainty in a lot of places. He says the increasingly friendly relations between President George W. Bush and Mexico President Vicente Fox couldn’t come at a better time for the project he’s been working on for more than six years: “This is a huge signal to world organizations and countries that America is becoming less Euro-centered and more north- and south-centered.”

Nearly 80 high-end outlet stores and restaurants are opening in the first 400,000 square feet of the International Gateway project; another 250,000 square feet will be filled over the next few years on the 67 acres west of Interstate 5 in San Ysidro. The market they want to attract: shoppers from both sides of the border drawn to the outlet stores and eateries occupying pedestrian-friendly “villages” within the mall.

“The center has always been targeted primarily at the Mexican residents living in all of Baja California and those who already shop in the United States,” Marasco says. “But we are hoping for an equal split with south San Diego County residents as well—high-end shoppers on both sides of the border who want to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”

The mall spruces up an area sorely in need of it—and Marasco says he’s committed to sharing the potential wealth with business neighbors across the freeway in the old San Ysidro business district.

Despite tighter border security after the September terrorist attacks, Marasco and Pam Hightman, the city’s redevelopment official overseeing the mall, say plans are still in the works for a pedestrian bridge from Mexico directly into the complex. The project calls for a huge arch across the border to create a dramatic landmark and emphasize the connection between the two countries.

“The new port of entry we’ve proposed and applied for has been well-received on both sides of the border,” Marasco says. “It’s really state-of-the-art—and will actually increase security because we’ll be able to install the latest equipment right from the start.”

San Diego redevelopment program manager Hightman agrees. She says there’s no indication from the federal government that the plan will be scrapped because of heightened security concerns. “We’re still very optimistic it will happen,” Hightman says.
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