City inaction, gloomy city budget projections and differing views on how to spur economic growth in the city have spawned a new business group called the Seacoasters.
Made up primarily of waterfront business and property owners, the group has more than 20 members who want their voices heard when it comes to future plans surrounding the new hotel scheduled to open in 2013.
“This is an altruistic effort,” said owner of Imperial House Apartments Robert Miller. “Not just for the new hotel and developing Seacoast, we want to use this as a springboard to help the economic base of the city. This hotel could very well be the catalyst to get this city moving in the right direction.”
Miller brought the group together last fall. In October 2011 Miller submitted a letter to the city at a workshop meeting to discuss waterfront business.
Among other things, Miller recommended regular meetings with stakeholders.
Inspired by the letter and talk at the meeting, city council directed city staff to compile short-term and long-term plans for, among other things, marketing and partnerships between the city and its business community and organizations.
The plan has not appeared on a council agenda for approval since it was first considered in November 2011, said Assistant City Manager Greg Wade.
The city has already initiated some of the directives of the short and long-term plans, like continuing to work on a commercial zoning review, street improvements and applying for capital improvement funding from the Port of San Diego, Wade said.
“It is expected that more specific direction will be given when we go back to the council with a report on last week’s workshop,” Wade said in an email Monday. Last week developers and entrepreneursspoke to city council about ways for the city to generate revenue.
At its core Miller said the Seacoasters are made up of of long-term businesses and active civic-minded people.
“The legacy of this city council and staff will reflect what you have done to take advantage of the new Seacoast Inn,” he said in the letter.
The Seacoasters were formed in part due to a lack of action to get IB ready for the hotel, Miller said, but the group would exist whether or not short and long-term plans were approved.
“If it’s not the Seacoasters, then it needs to be businesses or some other stakeholders to be resources and a constant reminder to council and staff that we have a long way to go to do the best we can long-term on Seacoast,” he said.
Even if council acted in the beginning of 2012, it would still be a year behind when plans should have been in place, said Councilman Ed Spriggs, a member of the Seacoasters and Seacoast Drive resident.
Spriggs said the IB city council works really well in most matters, but lack a common vision for specific things to do to develop the city’s economy.
City council does not want to recognize that the hotel will turn the city into a visitor serving economy, Spriggs said.
“This is my biggest disappointment with the council,” he said. “No change in priorities, no recognition that something big is happening here that now redefines us as a community.”
The largest issue of focus for the Seacoasters has been pedestrian scale lighting in hopes that it can support an after dark economy on the waterfront.
One issue has defined the Seacoasters more than any other: pedestrian scale lighting.
In a 3-2 vote earlier this year, Spriggs and Councilwoman Lorie Bragg, both Seacoasters, were the sole votes in favor of pedestrian scale lighting on Seacoast Drive.
Spriggs and Bragg wanted lighting 13- to 16-foot tall lights to make the area more inviting to residents and visitors to walk to local businesses and services.
Opponents of the measure argued that if additional lights were added to plans for new 22-foot tall street lights on the waterfront weren’t approved then the city risked losing redevelopment funds to pay for the lights to the state.
Seacoasters attended the March 21 meeting to voice their support for pedestrian scale lighting.
Spriggs said every community looks at its primary assets as a way to facilitate economic growth, and the city needs to focus on investments around the hotel.
“We have people operating under old software and we have to shift gears and look at where we are going to go,” Spriggs said.
Deric Fernandez is a member of the Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Redevelopment Oversight Committee, the Kiwanis Club and an active member of the Seacoasters.
As a Seacoaster and native Imperial Beachian, he said his goal is for his children to grow up in a great community like he did.
He said his interest in the Seacoasters came when former mayor Diane Rose told him about the group and their desire to attract business day and night, reduce crime and create a destination point that would have a positive ripple effect throughout the city.
The Seacoasters’ focus is pedestrian scale lighting, Fernandez said. At night the street is dark, dingy and not a destination point if people don’t want to walk and there is nothing to do at night.
The beach is great during the day, but if nothing is done, hotel guests will leave IB for other cities at night.
“We don’t want that,” he said.
Visitors need something to do at night other than stay in the hotel, and so pedestrian scale lighting is vital, Miller said.
“Now the city has not bought into this,” said Miller. “If you look at Chula Vista, Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, they all have pedestrian scale lighting where they have major business centers.”
The idea of better lighting for Seacoast Drive goes back as far as 2004 when he worked with Public Works Department Director Hank Levien on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the design of the Seacoast Improvement Program, Spriggs said.
At that time, it was ranked 10 out of 11 in priorities.
He said the Seacoasters are not only concerned about nighttime pedestrian lighting, but also with public safety, filling vacant lots, crime reduction and helping businesses near the hotel take advantage of a new customer base.
“Lighting didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. The image of what Seacoast Drive could be was pretty clear to all of us in that working group,” he said. “Now, I think the Seacoasters see a broader sense of what needs to happen with many being business people with a direct stake in the hotel’s success.”
Jersey Boys Diner owner Gregg Lalka said the Seacoasters are an energetic group ready to help Seacoast Drive reach its full potential. He said all the members are team players willing to support one another.
Lalka said projects they want to see include better street lighting in order to encourage evening foot traffic, tourist brochures promoting the businesses involved and making Seacoast Drive more dog-friendly.
“We think IB is a hidden gem waiting to be enjoyed by so many more people, which is what attracted us to IB when searching for a spot for our diner,” he said. “As a newer business, my wife [Nicole Lalka] and I felt it was crucial to band together with other businesses to brainstorm new ideas to show the world how wonderful it is to visit this beautiful stretch of Southern California.”
Former president of IB Beautiful Kitt Williams said she is optimistic that with the hotel scheduled to open in 2013, the Seacoasters can make a difference. The city does not have enough staff to keep up with the development, she said.
Money needs to be spent to improve the grounds and public spaces in the city.
“The city needs to improve the sidewalks so they are truly walkable; pedestrian- friendly lighting, and more stores with higher-end merchandise,” she said.
Julia Simms, founding partner of CHE Marketing, moved to IB last year.
She said she is excited about the progress of the Seacoasters and in a bad economy, it is wonderful to see the group’s involvement in creating a better atmosphere and working together to promote IB.
“As a resident, I walk along Seacoast Drive frequently. I believe that pedestrian friendly lighting at night will encourage more residents to participate in what the businesses have to offer,” said Simms. “I think it will bring more people down there and create an environment that discourages crime.”
In April Simms was appointed to the chamber’s Board of Directors.
Earlier this year she headed efforts to try and put together a sandcastle competition after the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition Committee disbanded. CHE is currently working to make a brochure to advertise local businesses.
The Imperial Beach City Council chose not to renew the city’s public relations contract with Simms’ company when a revised budget was approved last month.
Simms said IB is in competition with many other parts of the county and thinks it is important to make Imperial Beach stand out as a prime destination for all who want to visit here.
“It is important that we promote and work with the locals to promote the look and feel of the city as a friendly, fun and safe atmosphere for everyone,” she said.
Pacifica Companies owns the new hotel.
Allison Rolfe is the hotel project manager and a member of the Seacoasters.
Pacifica sent a letter to the city in support of pedestrian scale lighting when the matter was considered earlier this year.
“It is amazing how ambiance can be created by lighting,” Rolfe said. “It makes a huge difference. It is ideas like this that will bring that first time customer back and recommend Imperial Beach as a destination point.”
Miller said the hotel could be the most significant development in the history of Imperial Beach. He said a business owner working in their daily tasks might not have time to think about the impact the hotel could have on their business.
“One of my purposes is to close that gap because they are going to be serving a different public. We want to make sure this hotel is a success,” said Miller.
To join the Seacoasters or recommend ideas, email Robert Miller at email@example.com.
Bob Miller, Imperial House Apartments
Edward Spriggs, Imperial Beach City Council
Allison Rolfe, Pacifica Companies
Alma Skerston, The Bridge
Lorie Bragg, Imperial Beach City Council
Deric Fernandez, Imperial Beach Chamber Board
Christine LaPausky, D’ames Day Spa
Dick Pilgrim, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
William Massih, Seacoast Grill
Gregg and Nicole Lalka, Jersey Boys Diner
Mike Bibbey, Bibbey’s Shells and Rocks
Julia Simms, CHE Marketing
Matt Morgan, I.B. Forum
Kitt and Richard Williams, IB Beautiful
Richard and Cheryl Schaumburg, Coldwell Banker
Dave Van de Water, Seacoast Drive resident
Paul Meschler, Sea Breeze Apartments