New tenant for Carlsbad landmark: Sun Diego’s plans to lease century-old restaurant site stir controversy

The+Twin+Inns+site+in+Carlsbad%2C+which+housed+Nieman%E2%80%99s+and+Ocean+House+restaurants+over+the+past+three+decades%2C+will+now+house+a+Sun+Diego+Boardshops+store.+%28North+Coast+Current+photo%29

The Twin Inns site in Carlsbad, which housed Nieman’s and Ocean House restaurants over the past three decades, will now house a Sun Diego Boardshops store. (North Coast Current photo)

Manny Lopez

Surfers sometimes have a reputation for being extremely territorial about their waves. The same can be said about some residents and business owners in the coastal town of Carlsbad when it comes to landmark commercial real estate.

A conflict recently erupted when the management of Sun Diego Boardshops announced its desire to relocate one of its nine stores to a 126-year-old, three-story Victorian mansion in the heart of downtown Carlsbad at 300 Carlsbad Village Drive. For the past nine years, the space had been the site of the Ocean House restaurant, which closed suddenly in May.

On Oct. 15, Sun Diego announced that it had signed a lease agreement with Sima Corp. – owners of the Village Faire Shopping Center – and that it would take over the 11,000-square-foot space in the formerly named Twin Inns building where the Ocean House restaurant was located. Nieman’s restaurant had occupied the space from the mid-1980s until 2006.

According to Pete Censoplano, vice president of operations for Sun Diego and a resident of Carlsbad, negotiations are currently underway with a restaurant company to share the space and keep the long-standing tradition of an eatery occupying the historic building, which has been a restaurant since 1919.

“It is our intention to uphold its history and character since we thoroughly understand the significance of this building to the city of Carlsbad,” Sun Diego management said in a news release. “We would like to thank the owners of the Twin Inn(s) for their confidence in Sun Diego to occupy this amazing building.”

Much of the controversy related to the deal came from a group of local businessmen wanting to open a bar and restaurant named Nineteen Nineteen at the site. According to published reports, licensing and permit applications had been filed and a deposit placed in escrow for what was to be known as the “Belly Up North,” in reference to the popular Solana Beach nightspot.

A petition was launched on Change.org by Steve Lundqvist of Carlsbad asking Sun Diego to pull out of leasing the space.

Concerns posted by petition signers included that the place had always been a restaurant and concert hall and should remain that way; a corporate retail establishment would ruin the character and historic nature of the building; smaller businesses – especially surf shops – would be squeezed out; and food and beverage businesses are better for the local economy because they attract more tourists.

Don Ayala, a Carlsbad resident since 1974, said that he was concerned for local surf stores such as Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, located directly across the street from the new Sun Diego, and Offshore Surf Shop, less than two blocks away.

“I bought my first surf board at Offshore,” Ayala said. “These two surf shops have been prominent stores and have withstood the test of time. My concern is that now they’ll go under.”

But not everyone seems to think the Sun Diego move is a bad idea.

Matthew Harper, owner of Zories Flip Flops and Beachwear, located in the Village Faire Shopping Center, said that despite probably having to shutter his doors, overall the move will be good for neighboring business. Harper said that he sees the additional traffic that a high profile store such as Sun Diego will bring as a huge benefit.

“There are almost 100 food- and beverage-related establishments in this area and only about 30 retail stores,” Harper said. “We need an anchor store that will bring locals in with a shopping mindset. I think it’s a phenomenal thing and I’m happy to see it.”

Jess Ponting, director of the Center For Surf Research at San Diego State University, said that many surf destinations around the world are looking to create planned clusters of surf-related businesses to generate commercial synergies and strengths that create wealth and jobs.

“If they can develop a critical mass, people will be attracted to Carlsbad and there will be more surf tourism and retail sales, because people know there are a lot of options there,” he said.

The new Sun Diego store is scheduled to open in March 2014 and employ 35 people. The location will replace the Carlsbad Premium Outlets center store, which lost its lease.

Sun Diego is a family owned and operated business started in 1981. The company is based in Vista, but until recently was headquartered in Carlsbad for 15 years.

Manny Lopez is a North County freelance writer