Cash-flow crisis: La Jolla Merchants Association seeks to sublet Information Center
Space for lease: Three offices, a small common area, a display window and reception desk space in the front lobby of the La Jolla Village Information Center is available for rent. Contact Sheila Fortune at (858) 454-5718. Reduced flat-screen monitor advertising is $500 per month (includes five rotating images, brochure display and website ad).
By Pat Sherman
The La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) announced the election of five new board members during its Oct. 9 meeting, as well as the re-election of current board members Nancy Warwick and Kevin Smith.
Perhaps the most pressing issue for the new board — including incoming members Claude-Anthony Marengo, Corey Bailey, Justin Stewart, Carol Mills and Billy Borja — will be to help the association recover from what board president Phil Coller referred to as “severe financial distress.”
Though the group, which manages funds collected from merchants within the La Jolla business improvement district (BID), had high hopes for the Information Center it opened on Prospect Street this year, revenue it was banking on to pay the rent (about $100,000 more per year than its previous office space) hasn’t panned out.
The LJVMA decided to open its own Information Center when the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (ConVis) announced it no longer wished to operate the (now closed) La Jolla Visitor Center on Herschel Avenue. The La Jolla Village Information Center at 1162 Prospect St. combines the LJVMA offices with a conference room and high-visibility information center that board members hoped would generate enough revenue to cover its rent.
“When we signed the lease for that property it was a gamble,” LJVMA Treasurer Tom Brady said, noting that the group expected to cover a majority of the rent by selling advertising in its windows and on TV monitors, most of which are now blank.
Brady said the LJVMA was not able to pay rent on the space for September. “We are in arrears,” Brady said. “We’re not insolvent, but we’re certainly at the precipice — not unlike the federal government.”
Coller said the LJVMA also received about $56,000 (50 percent) less than it was expecting in city grants to operate the center (including funds previously awarded to ConVis to maintain the visitor center on Herschel Avenue).
“It is very difficult to qualify for these grants. As soon as I say I am representing La Jolla you can see the interest turn off in the faces of the panel,” Fortune said. “I believe it is assumed that we have plenty of money in our community and we don’t need to take it from other communities who may need it more. But if you look at our streets and sidewalks, as well as our coast walk and public bathrooms, that tells a very different story.”
Coller said the LJVMA is working to weather the storm and remain in its current location by temporarily subletting two-thirds of the space, which would include use of the rear half of the building, the conference room and one of the windows facing Prospect Street. The LJVMA is asking about $6,500 per month in rent.
“This will not change the front of the Information Center,” Coller told those attending the Oct. 9 meeting. “It will still be the Information Center, it will still have a desk, still have its TVs and programs … and there will possibly be another front desk for another organization.”
Speaking with La Jolla Light, Coller said the LJVMA is “not bankrupt or negative in money,” but merely experiencing momentary “cash-flow issues.”
“We have no funds for doing anything other than what we’re doing,” he said, which includes paying rent and meeting the payroll for its full-time executive director, full-time paid intern, part-time bookkeeper and a couple other part-time information center employees (as well as other minor expenses, such as maintaining the Village flower baskets and the LJVMA’s website).
Coller said time is of the essence to find a tenant, as the board must vote upon and ratify the proposal at future meetings, and make sure the landlord is amenable to subletting the space.
“Unless someone cuts us a check for $100,000 — which we’ll gladly accept — we need this money desperately,” Coller said. “If an opportunity arises, it needs to be seized upon.”
LJVMA member and attorney Mark Krasner suggested the incoming board “consider subletting together with other potential alternatives.”
Krasner also suggested arranging a meeting with Interim Mayor Todd Gloria to see if funding could be located to make up for the shortfall in grant money.
“Tourists, of course, generate tax revenue and fee revenue,” Krasner said. “I would think the city has a vested interest in cooperating with this organization to continue to provide the services that it does — not only for the merchants and residents of La Jolla, but citywide.”
Until the organization can get back on track, Fortune said the LJVMA will enact cost-cutting measures such as closing the Information Center on Mondays through the winter and reducing staff hours.
“We want to make sure we keep the La Jolla Village Information Center running, as it is a great asset to the Village,” Fortune said. “We will continue to look for grants, donations and ways to increase our exposure and market position. If we don’t market our Village, who will?”
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