Imperial Beach Hopes New Hotel Draws Tourists, Spurs Redevelopment
CAVANAUGH: A new beachfront hotel is about to hope in San Diego. It's built literally right next to the sand. The new Pier South Hotel is in Imperial Beach. It is part of an effort to breathe new economic life into a region of San Diego County often overlooked by both tourists and investors. Mayor Janney of Imperial Beach, welcome. JANNEY: Good afternoon. CAVANAUGH: And Cindy Gompper-Graves, welcome to the show. GRAVES: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Mayor Janney, this development of a resort hotel in Imperial Beach has been in the works for about a decade. Why did it take so long? JANNEY: I think the site was very difficult. The property owner wanted to do something very good, but it was hard to get done as beachfront. They had problems with water intrusion. So it's just a difficult site. CAVANAUGH: And was it hard to attract investors to the site? JANNEY: Well, Pacifica companies put the project together. I think they had the wherewithal associate I'm not sure where their funding came from. But they really stood up and did a great job. CAVANAUGH: If you could, give us a description of the location, and what it look like. JANNEY: Pier South right now is very iconic. It's brand-new for Imperial Beach. It is right on the beach. Every room has a view of the Pacific ocean. CAVANAUGH: And it's a $32 million project, and a new Cohen restaurant JANNEY: We're thrilled about that. David Cohen and the folks he brought with him, they put together a great product. And I think they're doing a very, very good business. CAVANAUGH: It's C180 Coastal Tavern. And in talking about this project, I was reading that you mention that you hope it will get people to change their perception of Imperial Beach. What is that perception? JANNEY: Well, the perception of imperial beach is very difficult. You have a perception from out of town, a perception from those that grew up here in San Diego County. And we've changed quite a bit. It's a great little town on the Pacific ocean. It's hard for people to understand what's available to it. So part of those things are overcoming where we are. The fact that we're still on the same Pacific ocean as our neighbors in Coronado, are the beachfront is looking fantastic right now, and it stretches past the commercial area. CAVANAUGH: I've heard every time I read about the new hotel or Imperial Beach, I read "sleepy little town", "economically distressed." Is that part of the perception that you're trying to overcome? JANNEY: Perhaps. And part of that information is incorrect. Economically distressed, we're always going to struggle. We are a bedroom community that under California state's revenue system is difficult to survive. I think we've done very well. We love the fact that we consider ourselves classic Southern California. It's in our logo, our mission statement. And that balance between what we want to bring in for economic development and make it a place for people to live and enjoy and want to be there, you have to balance both. CAVANAUGH: Cindy, is that perception that may be Imperial Beach is a little sleepier or less -- I don't know, developed or in a sense sophisticated than other parts of the coast of San Diego County, is that something that businesses in Imperial Beach struggle with? GRAVES: Actually I think they embrace it. A lot of people like to come to Imperial Beach for exactly that reason. You want to enjoy the ocean for the way maybe that you grew up. You want the sleepy little town. And the businesses there embrace that image. If you're looking for that whole '60s surf's, chic, that's what Imperial Beach is. CAVANAUGH: Will tourists decide to book rooms there and make this hotel a success? GRAVES: I think so. For exactly the reasons sim stated. You're right on the Mexico/U.S. border, you're right on the ocean. It's an amazing facility. But there are a lot of things to do in Imperial Beach. And especially the European tourists are embracing the whole environmental tourism kind of thing. They're going, wanting to look at estuaries and these things of things. And those are typically families who want to share nature with their children, and this is the perfect venue to do that. CAVANAUGH: Mayor Janney, is that what you see happening with Pier South? JANNEY: I think Cindy is correct, and she's done a great job of showing off imperial beach. For many folk, we are the beach for southern San Diego County. If you do head count, it's increased steadily over the last few years. I think because our presentation is getting that much better all the time. CAVANAUGH: What's the city's plan to market the hotel and the area? How much are you guys going to be investing in developing a marketing campaign to correspond with the opening of the hotel? JANNEY: We've been working with the hotel of course. The Tijuana estuary folks have put together some great PR pieces to show what's available down there. To the north is another state reserve. We're surrounded by all of these ecological tools. From a city perspective, we're partnering with the estuary, south county, EDC, to get the word out. The hotel, they've got some great ideas. I've talked to them, what we can do together. But when we're looking at just the whole town, the hotel will help. The Cohen group, they'll help even more. CAVANAUGH: Do you have a marketing budget? JANNEY: We do have a small marketing budget. The City Council last year when we did our budget said we wanted to put some money aside to do marketing. We haven't gone out and contracted. But we've used folks at south county EDC, put some brochures out, the videos from the estuary folks. There's a lot of little pieces coming together to showcase what we have down there. GRAVES: If I may, about four years ago, south county EDC was the recipient of a grant. Imperial beach was not marketed as a tourist destination. So we entered into a partnership with the district, and as a market San Diego, imperial beach and the rest of south county is now included in that. So our reach is much greater thanks to that partnership. CAVANAUGH: I understand that there's been some store improvements near the hotel in anticipation of the hotel on sea coast drive. JANNEY: The city helped in those. But then we had some private investors. Folks from Coronado Brewery. And they're not national chains. They're San Diego County people. And they understand that Imperial Beach, even though we're at the very south end of San Diego County, they know what we're like. So they see the advantage of being there. CAVANAUGH: Some people maybe who are closely associated with Imperial Beach look at what's going on there and scratch their heads because there have been some cutbacks to tourist events in recent years. The sand castle sculpture event came back in a smaller form last year. Will imperial beach be investing in getting that big event back? JANNEY: I'm not sure about the scale of the event. That was a volunteer group. They're very energized, they be put on something for decades. It was one of the best in San Diego County. I think as a volunteer group it becomes more difficult over the years. But we've been working with folks to bring perhaps other events such as travel, things that can include not just outsiders but people from Imperial Beach in the event. I think that's more important. CAVANAUGH: And then the fireworks show was cut back last year. JANNEY: Well, we partner uponed with the big bay boom for a year, then we had to fizzle for one year. [ LAUGHTER ] JANNEY: And we weren't ready to commit to it yet. Perhaps with a new hotel, we'll see more to it. We have a great partnership with the port of San Diego. CAVANAUGH: Cindy, the number of beach closures in the south bay due to contaminated water, how do you get around that fact? GRAVES: Those closures have been significantly reduced because of technology, and actually a lot more testing. And so really you're going to have beach closures, that's true, but they're dramatically reduced. When we're look at our high tourism season, we're not seeing much at all. And there's other things to do. The beaches are the No.†1 draw. But that's not the only thing to do in imperial beach. There's lots of other things to do too. So we want to get people down there for the beach and make sure they enjoy everything else we have to do. CAVANAUGH: I understand that the beach south of sea coast drive of closed from December to May last year. People, tourists read that kind of thing and say whoa! How do you get around that fact? JANNEY: Well, I'm not really sure about the facts of it being closed from December to May. The county partners with us and everybody else in trying to make sure the water is safe. We've always been at the tip of the spear with which it comes to this. We test more than any other beach in San Diego County. We believe in trying to make it basically the safest beach from that standpoint. The fact that the south end of the beach is at a major river estuary that is also connected with a foreign country has more problems. Events even in Mission Bay do affect us more than other places. But ten months out of the year, we don't have that problem. CAVANAUGH: And the height of the tourist season is the summertime? GRAVES: Absolutely. There's reasons to come all year-round. But like most of us, we take our vacations in the summer. CAVANAUGH: What are imperial beach's hopes for the new hotel's impact on the economy? JANNEY: I think the economy of it obviously, it'll produce some taxes and help us there. It's the fact that they were willing to come to Imperial Beach, put a lot of money in, bring what we originally thought might have been a 3-star hotel, I personally think it's way above that. The owners put a lot more into it to make it something even more than what myself and probably most of imperial beach expected we were going to get. And David Cohen and his group, that was just a slam dunk. We couldn't ask for more. CAVANAUGH: And the new hotel I hear has inspired you to give a state of the city address this year, which you haven't done for several years! ; is that correct? JANNEY: Yes, it's kind of a misconception. What we used to do, and I'm not calling it a state of the city, the city's anniversary is in the summertime. We would have a mayor's breakfast. Pat people on the back community-wise, city-wise, talk a little bit about it. Because we haven't had sand castle, we haven't done that. So a state of the city address, I think it's important that somebody do that and let people know. Financially, the city is doing a lot better than most people realize. CAVANAUGH: Why do you think we don't hear much about IB as perhaps we should? Why do you think these misperceptions persist? JANNEY: I couldn't tell you. It's a good question. I don't think I've gotten to the bottom of that. CAVANAUGH: And Cindy? You work to promote this area. GRAVES: I think we haven't gotten as many people down there as we should have. And I'll be honest with you, in October the Pacifica hotels and the groups were very generous in allowing us to preview the venue in October long before the restaurant and the hotel were open. And we had people come to IB who had never been, we had people there who hadn't been there for over a decade. And some of those people have already gone back for dinner at the restaurant. So getting them down there and having them see the changes the city has made, the investment the city has made, and just how beautiful imperial beach is, you want to come back.
A new beachfront resort is about to open in San Diego. It's newly designed, it includes a new Cohn restaurant and it's built literally right on the sand.
The construction is part of an effort to breathe new economic life into a region of San Diego County often overlooked by both tourists and investors. And Imperial Beach is pinning a lot of hope on the success of the new hotel, which has been a decade in the making.
Pier South begins taking reservations Jan. 15. The restaurant, SEA 180° Coastal Tavern, opened last month.