The La Jolla Village Merchants Association has a new executive director. Sheila Fortune, a former board secretary and part of the volunteer group that initially formed the LJVMA was selected unanimously in a vote this month to lead the organization.
Fortune has been serving as interim executive director after stepped down from the position in May and is set to make $85,000 per year as the official director. As former owner of in La Jolla, Fortune has a keen business sense and strong ties within the community.
Over the next 12 months she will be spearheading an array of projects designed to attract more business to La Jolla Village, and foster more community engagement.
La Jolla Patch spoke with Fortune about her new position, including the challenges the LJVMA is currently facing and the plans she has to be sure they overcome them.
La Jolla Patch: What made you interested in becoming the Executive Director of the LJVMA?
Sheila Fortune: The opportunity came to me with a phone call from Phil Coller, the President of LJVMA. He asked me if I would consider coming in and helping out LJVMA. The executive director was leaving the position and they needed help. I had been a part of the committee that started LJVMA and was a previous Board member as secretary. I was at a place in my own life where I was trying to figure out where my next career opportunity was going to be, and this gave me something to do while I was putting my own plan together.
Patch: What do you think is going to be the most challenging task ahead of you?
Fortune: We have so many great plans for LJVMA and the Village. I am one staff person among a 15-member board. We count on many volunteers to help us successfully carry out those plans. We need more business owners, community leaders and our real estate owners in the Village to step up and get involved to help enact change.
We also have to find public and private partnerships for additional funds. The amount of funding LJVMA gets from the City of San Diego for the La Jolla Business Improvement District is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to make a positive impact in the Village.
Patch: What are the top things on your agenda right now for the LJVMA?
Fortune: Finding new retail/office space for LJVMA to merge our office with the San Diego Convention - La Jolla Visitors’ Information Center, take over management of the Center and move by the end of the year.
Supporting the Belvedere project team.
Preparing for the October Board of Directors elections and swearing in 8 new board members.
Making sure LJVMA and our event partners have successful events in September and October: Haute La Jolla Nights, San Diego Film Festival – La Jolla, La Jolla Art & Wine Festival and Pillage the Village.
LJVMA is also exploring the idea of creating a Clean and Safe program that would utilize our own full-time maintenance team working in the Village daily.
Finding private money for some of the costs that we are faced with:
- It costs tens of thousands of dollars to repair and steam clean all of our sidewalks
- It costs over $50,000 annually to keep the hanging baskets full of beautiful flowers; we’ve tried to do it for half that amount and the result is less than adequate for the investment
- We would like our benches, trash cans, lighting fixtures, newspaper racks and bicycle racks to all be a uniform design, clean and functional, displaying the beauty that the Village represents. Again, this item alone could be hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve this goal.
Patch: What lessons did you learn during your time as owner of Aquamoree that you think will help you moving forward?
Fortune: Understanding that we need to engage the local residents to come into the Village more often and eat, shop, and spend their money to keep all of the businesses open.
La Jolla Patch: What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
Fortune: The challenge of successfully managing all the different projects that we are juggling. Helping to bring them to life, while making a positive impact for the Village.
Patch: What are your plans for bringing more business into The Village?
Fortune: We would like to establish an economic development team tasked with targeting and attracting the businesses we want to open here. Not waiting on the business to come to us and letting them lease just to fill a space for a few months. We need to target the companies, prepare a campaign, and entice the prospective company to bring their business to La Jolla. That way we build a better economic, retail and marketing mix of businesses. Basically we need to work proactively not re-actively.
Patch: What do you think individual merchants in The Village can do to improve the community and the consumer experience?
Fortune: First they can start by just helping clean up the Village. Sweep their front sidewalks, pick up any garbage on the sidewalks. Help keep the plants in front of their stores maintained. Then it would be great to have them come to the monthly board meetings, get involved on a committee with LJVMA and have a voice in the future of the Village.
Patch: Any upcoming events to watch out for?
Fortune: Events listed above, as well as the partnership we are creating with Century Club San Diego – Farmers Insurance Open PGA Tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course in January 2013.
La Jolla Patch: You’re clearly very involved in La Jolla life, can you describe what an ideal weekend in La Jolla is for you?
Fortune: By the time I get to the weekend I’ve probably been to many LJVMA business and charity events, meetings and had numerous conversations about La Jolla. So I try to unwind a bit. I usually meet up with locals in the Village at one of our great restaurants for a glass of wine and socializing.
On Saturday’s and Sunday’s I make time for my son and his wife and their new baby girl, my first grandchild. I love to play golf with my son and have found some friends who like to play, too. Getting to the golf course and hitting some golf balls is a very therapeutic to me. I also love to get out on the water with a group of local friends on their beautiful boat and see La Jolla from the water. After sunsets we head back in to the Village for dinner. Then I get up on Monday and do it all again.