Right around what would have been its third anniversary, the La Jolla Village Information Center at 1162 Prospect St. will close its doors, it was announced at the Sept. 9 La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association (LJVMA) meeting. The Information Center opened in January 2013 to serve visitors by distributing local brochures, answering questions and providing concierge services, and is expected to close just after the New Year.
LJVMA has already ceased activity there, as there is no one on site to answer questions, but there are stands with brochures and pamphlets for La Jolla businesses.
“The Information Center has experienced the perfect storm,” said LJVMA executive director Sheila Fortune, citing decreases in income from the city and applicable tourism grants while expenses stayed the same, as a reason for the closure.
A one-year Economic Development and Tourism Support grant provided much of the Information Center funding last year, the cycle for which ended in June. Although the LJVMA expected to receive the grant again this year, Fortune said the Information Center did not qualify.
Speaking later with La Jolla Light, Fortune explained, “It’s a very competitive grant that a lot of businesses in a lot of communities go after, and a lot of them are seen as being in more need than La Jolla. (To have received it again) we would have had to show growth like crazy and statistics showing we were bringing people into the community, and we just didn’t have that.” Approximately 28,000-30,000 people walked into the Information Center each year, she said.
Fortune told the merchants association board that, “The way people are traveling now, they are using their smartphones and travel websites, they aren’t coming through our website or coming into the Information Center to make reservations.”
LJVMA president Claude-Anthony Marengo said city funds that the center received did not come in consistently enough for the group to count on.
“It’s just too difficult the way the city allocates funds to us to keep employees. We would ask for a certain amount and they would give us two-thirds (of what we requested),” he said.
On the Information Center’s payroll were Fortune, a full-time paid intern, a part-time bookkeeper and a couple of part-time employees. Fortune will remain as the executive director and manage LJVMA’s other projects along with the business Improvement District.
Fortune said the advertising model the Information Center used — displaying images of local businesses on monitors surrounding the Information Center desk — did not prove fruitful. the hope was that the screens would generate enough advertising dollars to pay the rent completely, but “the advertising never picked up, even at the same rates the San Diego tourism Authority would have offered,” Fortune said.
In addition to subsequent problems with income, the Information Center had its share of financial difficulties early on.
In October 2013, LJVMA announced it was in the midst of “cash-flow issues” and it would sublet some of the office space to help pay the rent. Pacific Sotheby’s became the co-tenant in November, and shared the office space and front desk/lobby.
Pacific Sotheby’s will remain in the space until further notice. Pacific Sotheby’s agreed to shoulder the rent burden as sole tenant to keep the Information Center open. The frontage will still read La Jolla Village Information Center, but there will not be a LJVMA employee at the desk. For the time being, Fortune explained, the Center will look as it always has.
Going forward, LJVMA will use available funds to improve its website — lajollabythesea.com — and designate an employee to walk the Village streets to get to know the businesses and their management.
Marengo said, “We had to look at the value of that Information Center staff we had, and manning the desk the whole time. Having a staff person to walk the Village with the board of directors to spread the word about the Village merchants Association and get beneficial information out into the community is seen as a better alternative to having someone sitting at a desk.”
In other LJVMA news:
■ Second holiday parade denied: Following the lead of community organizations such as La Jolla Traffic & Transportation (tT&T) and La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA), the LJVMA also denied the requested street closures for a proposed second holiday parade in December.
The proposed parade — aka La Jolla Community and Holiday parade — is designed to be a faith-neutral alternative to the 58th annual La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival, which is a completely separate event. the new parade is proposed for Sunday, Dec. 13, one week after the La Jolla Christmas parade and Holiday Festival, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.
“Normally a special event would come here first and we would give feedback, then it would go to T&T and then the CPA,” Marengo said. “There is a lot of weigh-in and ... we purposefully deferred to them and decided to vote afterward.”
A motion by LJVMA member Glen Rasmussen to deny the street closures based on the negative impact it would have to close the street two concurrent weekends during the holiday shopping season, passed 10-0-2.
■ Pillage the Village: Because Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, the annual pillage the Village will be Friday, Oct. 30, reported Leon Chow.
For the event, participating Girard Avenue businesses will give candy to children in costumes.
“The idea is they are already in costumes for school, and then they can just walk down Girard Avenue right from La Jolla Elementary,” he said.
Additional details will be announced as they become available.