After years of effort to get the businesses in southeastern San Diego as well organized as some others across the city, there’s been another setback: San Diego has cut ties with the nonprofit charged with running the business improvement district in Lincoln Park, Encanto, Mt. Hope and Emerald Hills.
Background: Neighborhoods with business districts usually stand out. They make entire neighborhoods places where residents and visitors want to spend time and money. And places where new entrepreneurs want to set up shop, which only improves an area’s economic prosperity.
The nonprofit Diamond Business Assocation, as a contractor with the city, ran the district in southeastern San Diego for nearly 10 years. Organization leaders focused on strengthening the district’s small business community through training, services and events. It also tried to attract more business to the area to keep residents from leaving the community to shop outside the district.
But now, the city no longer believes the organization is capable of providing what the community needs. Diamond Business Improvement District members are wondering what’s going to happen next.
The news: Last month, a city official informed the Diamond Business Association’s leaders that the city would not renew its contract because of the nonprofit’s high staff turnover and a lack of community support for the organization.
Christina Bibler, department director, wrote in the July notice that it was the department’s responsibility to provide oversight and accountability to make sure districts are getting high-quality services – implying that Diamond businesses were getting a low-quality service.
The Economic Development Department will run the district for now, a city spokesman said.
The Diamond business district is one of 18 business districts in San Diego.
Here’s how it works: The city collects annual fees from businesses within designated boundaries; then it contracts with the nonprofits to provide resources to the business owners. The nonprofits are responsible for making the area more exciting for customers to visit. That can be done through planned activities or revitalizing projects. The fees businesses pay fund those initiatives.
Businesses in districts across the city pay an annual fee that ranges from $40 to $500. Newer or larger businesses can pay up to $5,000.
The city asked the nonprofit to return any remaining funds and items purchased with those member funds to the city’s Economic Development Department. That could include banners to promote businesses in the area and more.
City staff are reviewing the assets, a city spokesman said. The department would not provide a total dollar amount.
The businesses in the Diamond district range from taco stands to large supermarket chains. But most of the members are small business owners.
Leaders involved with the business district told Voice of San Diego that the business community there needed help accessing services and opportunities offered to other businesses across the city.
Some business owners needed help with financial literacy. Others who wanted to improve their storefronts needed help securing long-term leases with their landlords. Some were Spanish-speakers only and needed help applying for grants and filling out business documents.
The neighborhoods in the district do not have the diversity of businesses that allows residents to stay in their community and shop. That hurts businesses there. If say, someone wanted to buy furniture, they would have to get out of the district to buy a couch.
The business district also belongs to the San Deigo Promise Zone. That’s a federally designated geographic area in the city that the government has identified as one that is culturally rich and diverse, but also has high poverty and unemployment rates.
Diamond Business Association Board President Marco Ortiz declined to comment. He referred questions about the contract to the city.
In an email to district members, the Diamond Business Association announced its next move. It plans to sell memberships to businesses who want to access its services. That includes its office conference room, training resources, virtual office, mailboxes and more.
“We are so excited at the Diamond Business Association, because this new chapter in the life of our organization bring the opportunity to expand the impact we can have in the entire region of the city of San Diego and its counties,” the message reads.
Bibler, the city department director, wrote in the July letter that staff would work with the businesses and the City Council offices of Sean Elo-Rivera and Monica Montgomery Steppe in the coming months to “establish an appropriate transitional community advisory role.”