The dream of revitalizing downtown Hemet into the hub of Valley activity as it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s is becoming more of a reality today as foot traffic is continuing to increase on Harvard Street and Florida Avenue.
Spurring on the increased foot traffic is the expansion of the popular Downtown Deli, the Diamond Valley Arts Council studio and stage and other businesses beginning to prosper up in the area. Behind much of the impetus of change in downtown Hemet is an active Hemet City economic development staff, the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, young entrepreneur Steve Covington and downtown commercial landowner Simon Chu.
Earlier this past holiday week Covington, who owns the rapidly expanding Downtown Deli and Coffee Company, revealed that he is partnering up with Chu in redesigning many of the downtown buildings that have withstood the ravages of time since the 1880s. They are hoping to bring downtown Hemet to its past glory.
Chu, Covington said, is the owner of approximately 100,000 square feet of commercial buildings on Harvard and Florida Avenue in historic downtown Hemet. He and Chu partnered to create the 2,500-square-foot Downtown Deli and bring it up to earthquake and commercial building safety standards. Many of the buildings on the west side of Harvard Street and the north side of downtown Florida Avenue were built of brick and mortar in the 1880s. Approximately 10 to 15 of the old business buildings are owned by Chu, said Covington.
It was Covington and Chu who provided input and assistance to the Hemet City planners who introduced the Downtown Hemet Specific Plan to the Hemet City Council in September, 2016. Prior to the new specific plan many of the older buildings in downtown Hemet had already been refitted and reinforced to meet the state’s earthquake and safety standards and readied for habitation by the next commercial enterprise.
What is in the plans for Covington and Chu now?
“I am so happy to be a part of the downtown revitalization of downtown Hemet,” said Covington. He looked around at the Downtown Deli and Coffee Company at 113 N. Harvard Street, that he and his wife opened less than three years ago and watched it grow for a less than 1000 foot storefront to a 2500 square-foot bustling sit down restaurant/coffee shop. The business has paid off to the point he said he is looking at franchising out the idea. “But, first we have to make it an incorporation. We can’t ignore the buzz and be complacent about the growth,” he said.
Included in Covington and his new partner’s plan is opening the “Steakhouse 1888,” in the downtown Hemet area. Then there are plans to bring new facades to the storefronts in the downtown area and lighting that will reflect the streetlights of historic Harvard Street and Florida Avenue. Harvard is now a one-way street to better accommodate foot traffic and the downtown specific plan outlines other one-way streets in the area.
Harvard Street as Covington sees it will be known throughout the Inland Empire are the “Shops at Harvard” and the center of a new tourist and shopping attraction.
Covington and Chu and interested commercial developers are now looking at the historic downtown Hemet as the beginning of a new era in the history of the Hemet/San Jacinto following the city’s hope for the future.
The Hemet Downtown revitalization has begun following the purpose of the city’s “Downtown Hemet Specific Plan is to revitalize the City’s historic downtown area, foster a healthy community and promote economic development.
“The vision for Downtown is to become a vibrant community hub for civic, social, cultural, and employment activities. As such, the primary objectives of the Specific Plan are to preserve and enhance the historic core, preserve Downtown’s single family neighborhoods, promote infill development, recommend appropriate transit-oriented land uses near the future transit mobility hub, improve pedestrian connections to the transit mobility hub and around Downtown, and create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly and sustainable environment. The Downtown Hemet Specific Plan represents the opportunity to revitalize the heart of the City by embracing both Downtown’s history and its future potential.”
What does this downtown specific plan entail?
The goals and policies were derived from input received from residents and businessmen in the community, like Chu and Covington during a number of public hearings last year.
The following is a summary of the overall goals identified for the Specific Plan as seen on the Hemet City Planning Department website cityofhemet.org:
- Revitalize the historic Downtown core and stimulate infill development.
- Improve economic vitality and employment opportunities in the Downtown.
- Preserve and enhance existing single-family neighborhoods.
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.
- Encourage good design and high-quality development.
- Promote active transportation and reduce vehicle miles traveled.
- Enhance quality of life with improvements to the public realm.
- Promote sustainable development practices and “green” streets.
- Explore options for improving parking in the Downtown.