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Tourism alliance seeks funds

A group of hoteliers and restaurateurs today will ask the San Diego Tourism Promotion Corp. for upwards of $1 million to help market the La Jolla area’s 16 hotels.

The La Jolla Destination Marketing Alliance, which had one previous request for funding rejected, wants $1,048,050 for the fiscal year 2010, beginning in July.

The group was formed four years ago, a grant application filed with the city organization in November stated.

The application said that in 2007-08 the group focused “on public relations with 14 media writers” and worked with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to arrange visits by tourism media. The group also provided staff support for two larger trips, the application notes.

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Deborah Marengo, the president of the group and former president of Promote La Jolla, wrote in an e-mail: “These are extremely difficult economic times for not only all of La Jolla, but the entire city of San Diego. Marketing dollars are needed now more than ever to keep La Jolla top of mind as a great place to visit.”

The local marketing alliance wants money from the promotion corporation’s San Diego Tourism Marketing District, which is an assessment district for San Diego’s 70-plus-room hotels. The hotels pay 2 percent of non-exempt gross room revenues to fund marketing and promotions enhancing tourism activity and hotel room night consumption citywide.

Proving value

Lorin Stewart, executive director for the city’s promotion group, said that in order to qualify for tourism funds from the city group, applicants for a specific area must show that the efforts “would boost (hotel) sales for the entire district, not just one area.”

Terry Underwood, general manager of La Jolla’s Grande Colonial Hotel and an alliance board member, said the group was formed outside of Promote La Jolla (PLJ) - the business improvement district for the Village - to allow it to be more inclusive of the regional lodging industry.

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Underwood said the “La Jolla brand” encompasses the Shores, UTC and the Torrey Pines area.

Details in question

While the alliance’s funding application lists the group as a nonprofit corporation, questions have been raised about its legal status.

Stewart could not provide specifics but said, “If we were to contract with them, they would have to have in place all the tax information required by law, including a tax identification number.”

Rick Wildman, an attorney who is the new president of PLJ - which helps promote businesses, restaurants and hotels in the Village - said last week, “I have no evidence that it (the alliance) even exists as a board, that it has any legal capacity to do anything. I’m not sure it was formed legally.”

He also questioned whether “a nonexistent entity that is not a legal entity” could apply for a grant.

Voluntary support

Underwood referred questions about the group’s legal status to Marengo, who did not respond to an e-mail seeking details about the La Jolla group’s organizational structure, its founding, or how or if it related to Promote La Jolla.

Until now, Underwood - who is also a Promote La Jolla director - said the Alliance has funded itself via individual voluntary contributions from members such as the Grande Colonial, La Valencia, George’s and Jack’s, who have anteed up funding to pay for Web site-driven marketing. “In 2006, that amount was around $150,000,” he said. “In 2007, it was less.”

Given financially lean times, Underwood acknowledged the alliance will be hard pressed to remain viable if its application for Tourism Promotion Corp. money is turned down.

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“Right now, everyone’s hurting economically and the ability for each of us (hotels) to write a check for support in this market is a challenging thing,” he said.

Common members

A partial list of alliance board members included in its fund application includes people who are current and former board members of PLJ: Marengo, Underwood, Peter Wagner of Hotel Parisi; George Hauer of George’s at the Cove; Gregory Rizzi of the La Jolla Shores Hotel, Jerry Burwell of CrabCatcher; and Michael Ullman, former general manager of the La Valencia.

At Promote La Jolla’s January meeting, Executive Director Tiffany Sherer reported on the marketing-related activities she has led and cited similar activities to those listed in the alliance application.

In response to questions about connections between the two groups and her involvement, she wrote in an e-mail: “I was asked to sit in on the destination marketing alliance monthly meetings as a liaison to the board of directors for PLJ to stay informed of their initiatives, as it complimented (sic) PLJ’s mission. The board of directors knew of and supported my participation in the meetings.”

She also wrote that she reviewed the initial grant applications on her own time and was not paid for her help.