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Businesses give U.S. Open mixed reviews

The U.S. Open’s impact on local businesses was mostly positive, said merchants, but not as good as might have been hoped.

Business owners and managers cited two things that may have discouraged visitors from coming to La Jolla from the links: the city’s decision to require Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley to be the sole staging area for golf guests and the posting of signage at entrance points to La Jolla that cautioned about long delays during the golf tournament.

“All in all we had a stellar week,” said Bill McHugh, owner of Jose’s Courtroom Cantina at 1037 Prospect St. “A good portion of our business was golf fans.”

But whether, or by how much, local businesses benefited from the U.S. Open depended largely on the nature of each business. Restaurants and bars seemed to fare better than some other retailers, such as Warwick’s bookstore at 7812 Girard Ave.

“It’s a hard week to break apart because we had (school) graduation, teacher’s presents and Father’s Day, so we’re normally pretty busy,” noted Nancy Warwick, bookstore owner. “We had people in the store who were tourists coming into town for the tournament.

“It was a good thing for us, but my feeling is, it could have been better,” Warwick said. “There were signs posted on Torrey Pines Road warning of extreme traffic delays, saying things like, ‘minimize trips.’ I think that was really unfortunate. That, and requiring all chartered buses to go first to Qualcomm, that made it really challenging for the hotel operators. There was potential that was lost. There could have even been more benefit from the golf tournament for the hotel and restaurant owners.”

George Hauer, owner of George’s At The Cove at 1250 Prospect St., was only partly pleased by his customer turnout during the week of the Open. "(Business) was very good at dinner and not at all good at lunch,” Hauer said. “But overall it was a plus. We had a fairly substantial dinner business.”

Michael Ullman, general manager of La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect St., was somewhat disappointed by business. “The room occupancy wasn’t as strong as I had anticipated,” Ullman said, “but overall it was a positive experience for us. I think the traffic getting into La Jolla was a little bit of an issue. But it was a wonderful event that brought terrific exposure to both La Jolla and San Diego.”

Bill Kellogg, third-generation owner-manager of La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club at 2000 Spindrift Drive in La Jolla Shores, said his business was little affected by the U.S. Open. “It didn’t really have much of an impact on our room reservations,” Kellogg said. “We had one day where we were sold out at La Jolla Shores Hotel, but aside from that, we had the same occupancy as we’ve had the past few years. It seemed to us we had more of a local crowd than a national crowd.

“Part of the issue was the problem revolving around transportation and how you got to the Open. We had shuttles and so forth, but I’m not quite sure it was as bustling as we had all projected it would be. I had one person say that (Open) tickets were sold out for Saturday and Sunday early in the process. That may have prevented people from flying in from out of town. I don’t know.”

Leslie Araiza, director of marketing for the historic Grande Colonial Hotel, said the hotel’s expectations for profiting from the event were high. “We were hoping we’d be sold out the entire week and we could sell five-night minimums,” she said. “Once we realized that wasn’t going to happen, we dropped all minimum requirements within the last week.”

Araiza said the hotel did great last-minute business. “For Thursday through Saturday (June12-14) we were in the high 80s (percent) for occupancy, stronger than we had anticipated,” she said, “which was great for us. We would have liked to have been sold out - but that wasn’t the reality for any of the hotels in the area. The exposure to the city was fantastic - and priceless. But the event was in La Jolla. It would have been nice for La Jolla to have reaped a little more benefit from it.”

Early returns on the economic success of the U.S. Open event this year at Torrey Pines to the San Diego region suggest it had a positive, marked impact, said David Peckinpaugh, president/CEO of San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis).

“The best indicator for us was a report from Smith Travel Research showing two key indicators, hotel occupancy and average daily rate,” Peckinpaugh said. “Hotel occupancy for this destination compared to the same period last year was up 4 percent for the week ending June 14th. The average daily hotel rate was up 17.7 percent. When you see that kind of spike, it’s due to a special event doing well, like the U.S. Open.”

From ConVis’ perspective, the special event couldn’t have gone better. “We couldn’t have designed it any better,” Peckinpaugh said. “We’ve been joking that if Tiger (Woods) could have limped a little bit more, it could have been more dramatic. But he and Rocco put on an incredible show for a worldwide audience. It was one of the greatest sporting events of all time.”