New task force to be formed to improve business climate in Del Mar village

By Joe Tash

A new task force made up of merchants and city staff will look at ways the Del Mar city government can assist existing businesses and encourage new businesses to locate in the city.

The decision to form the task force came after the City Council discussed a proposal by Mayor Terry Sinnott and Councilman Al Corti, which called on the city to focus its energy and attention on improving the business climate in the city’s downtown village area.

The action comes in the wake of November’s defeat by Del Mar voters of Proposition J, a downtown revitalization plan supported by city officials and business leaders.

A memo included on the City Council’s Monday, April 15, agenda authored by Sinnott and Corti, painted a less-than-rosy picture of the city’s current business prospects.

“Our downtown businesses are not prospering. Approximately 45 percent of the Plaza is vacant. The Flavor restaurant has closed. Our sales tax revenues, which indicate the amount of business being conducted in the City, have not been increasing, and are projected to decline in 2012-2013 (to just under $1.5 million),” the memo said.

The memo asks whether the city is doing all it can to help new and existing businesses prosper, and then suggests a number of steps, such as forming a task force, establishing a dedicated “business coordinator” position at City Hall, solving parking issues, reducing the cost of opening a restaurant in Del Mar, and promoting Del Mar as a business-friendly city.

Following the discussion at Monday’s meeting, City Manager Scott Huth said he would compile a list of potential task force members and present it to the council at its May 1 meeting.

Sinnott and Corti said they are concerned the business climate is deteriorating in Del Mar’s downtown village, which could in turn impact the city’s ability to provide services and hurt property values throughout the city.

“My ultimate worry is if businesses continue to decline in Del Mar, we will have a harder time remaining economically viable,” Sinnott said.

Competition from nearby shopping centers such as Del Mar Highlands and Flower Hill, as well as the proposed One Paseo project on Del Mar Heights Road, puts more pressure on local businesses, the council members said.

Several business and property owners spoke at the meeting, supporting the idea of a business liaison at the city. They also cited problems such as parking, and a perception that the city is more prone to put up obstacles for businesses than to be helpful.

Property owners also need incentives to upgrade their buildings, said council members and merchants, which was one of the elements of the revitalization plan that was rejected by voters in November.

Sinnott stressed that the city should not duplicate efforts of such groups as the Del Mar Village Association, which are already working to promote the city’s business prospects.

Rather, he said, the city should “focus on our own house,” as it looks for ways to support Del Mar’s business community.