In a competitive business environment, Costa Mesa needs to, well, compete.
That was the message told to residents this week from a report outlining the city's activities last month at the International Council of Shopping Centers RECon conference in Las Vegas. Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger — both of whose professional backgrounds are in real estate development and management — city CEO Tom Hatch and three other officials attended the event, which took place May 19 to 22.
Their goal was to lure "top-level retail and dining establishments" to the City of the Arts, according to city staff.
"Costa Mesa needs to promote itself, and it needs to compete on a stronger basis," Hatch said during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
While the city has an unusually large tax base that's primarily derived from South Coast Plaza and the Harbor Boulevard car dealerships, when those businesses perform poorly, it can cause "havoc and heartache" to the city budget and officials must adjust accordingly, he added.
A flier distributed Tuesday night about the conference enumerated the interest expressed in Costa Mesa as a place to do business:
•120 people visited the city's booth, where business cards and information could be exchanged;
•Eleven formal meetings lasting 30 minutes or more were conducted with attendees from the city;
•15 requests for meetings were made after the conference;
•Nine meetings were being scheduled or held as of May 29;
•One meeting with Hatch was scheduled for this week.
"It went extremely well," Righeimer said of the Nevada conference. "I met dozens and dozens of people that are interested in our city.
"We're really focusing on sit-down restaurants," he added. "We're really gonna focus to get those in here ... from a developer side, they want to go where they're welcome. If you go and you've already met two of the council people, that helps a lot."
Added Mensinger: "Everybody knows South Coast Plaza. But a lot of people don't know the intricacies of the balance of the city. They don't know what's available, what's out there."
He said the city wants to promote its downtown, the corridors along 17th and Bristol streets, as well as the Westside.
Conferences like last month's are a chance to see the economic trends, he said.
"Everybody's got a piece of the puzzle and they're trying to find a place for it to fit," Mensinger said. "And you want it to fit in Costa Mesa."
In April, city officials said they budgeted about $7,000 to cover all costs of the trip. During the April 16 council meeting, Councilwoman Wendy Leece pulled the item about the conference from the council's consent agenda and, "in the spirit of transparency," said she wanted public disclosure of the costs and attendees.
Hatch said with a new display booth paid for by the Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau, the city looked "really sharp." The booth contained images of the city's shopping, dining, retail, arts and educational offerings, as well as a TV displaying a promotional video.
"In short, it was a very productive conference, very exhausting at times in terms of standing and talking and promoting Costa Mesa," Hatch said. "But it was well worth the cost, and I think Costa Mesa looked great and got a lot out of that."