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San Clemente Aims to Catch Wave of Business

San Clemente wants Orange County businesses and residents to think of its city as more than a laid-back surf town.

Under the helm of Mayor Chris Duncan, the city has been working to strike up public-private partnerships to increase its coffers to address challenges—such as the devastating landslides of late—as well as opportunities—like a growing local demand for niche sports, specifically pickleball.

“San Clemente has always been known as a hidden gem, and it’s very well protected by the locals,” Duncan told the Business Journal during a recent visit to city hall, situated along Calle Negocio near the headquarters of $2.4 billion-valued device maker ICU Medical Inc. (Nasdaq: ICUI) and the city’s new Life Time gym.

“We have an incredible economic development story to tell, and there’s been a history of not wanting to tell that story because we don’t want to threaten what makes the city unique, or lose our incredible heritage,” Duncan said. “But the reality is, if we don’t take advantage of financial opportunities, we will be left behind.”

Casa Romantica

A catalyst for this new sense of urgency was the April landslide that destroyed part of the terrace at the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens—which has served as a historic hub, event venue and award-winning center for the arts.

The landslides also caused widespread disruption to the trains that used the rail tracks just below the center, alongside the beach.

“It’s our most important historic site on city land, and we are now responsible for making sure the home survives, and that costs a lot of money,” Duncan said of Casa Romantica.

Over the summer, the city moved to invest $8 million in repairs for the site, marking one of the largest city-funded construction contracts on record. It recently held a philanthropic event, Cards for the Casa, that raised an additional $60,000, with San Clemente-based Sonance, a maker of high-end speakers and other audio products, serving as a main sponsor.

Efforts are ongoing to stabilize the land and reopen the terrace, with construction on that portion expected to wrap early this year. Duncan wants to take the repairs a step further and expand the back terrace with terraced walking paths.

“There’s an opportunity to have more engagement with the natural plants, create a larger venue space and truly make Casa Romantica everything it should be,” Duncan said.

Sports Bet

San Clemente pulled from other capital improvement projects to front the money for Casa Romantica repairs and is now looking ahead to how it can increase the city’s revenue to be able to support other such city projects.

“We don’t have a TOT [transient occupancy tax] from any large hotel, so we need to get creative in our economic development solutions,” Duncan said.

One economic development effort is sports-focused, hinging on the city’s long-term reputation as a surf town, and more recently as a hub for pickleball.

On the former front, the city has hosted the World Surf League finals in a contract with the sports organization and San Clemente-based Rip Curl that ran from 2021 to 2023.

The World Surf League recently announced it would return to Lower Trestles this September for the Championship Tour.

The 2023 finals was the most-watched day in professional surfing, with more than 10 million video views, up 30% from 2022, which was also a record year, according to the WSL.

“A lot of that is because of what we’re doing locally, with leaning into our partnership and engaging the community,” Duncan said. “We’re working to connect businesses with each other for these major events, and harness that economic fusion to make sure it goes back to the local economy.”

Pickleball, meanwhile, has been the breakout sports star of the past few years, with some recent reports noting the sport has surpassed tennis in popularity.

San Clemente is playing at the forefront of that popularity, Duncan noted.

In June, Life Time Rancho San Clemente—a 45,000-square-foot upscale gym facility with a waiting list since it opened in 2020—played host to back-to-back pickleball tournaments, including the Carvana Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour and the Major League Pickleball finals.

The two organizations returned to Life Time at the end of the year, with the PPA tour returning from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 and the MLP holding another round of finals the following week.

“There’s a thriving pickleball-playing community in San Clemente,” Duncan said. “It’s a sport for everyone, from ages 8 to 80.”

There’s plentiful sponsorship opportunities for the sport in the city, and Duncan hopes the sport will also help drive additional visitor spending.

“We very much want to engage in partnerships to make these tournaments as big and amazing as can be,” Duncan said.

Pickleball, Everyone?

Demand for pickleball in San Clemente has prompted the city to propose plans for a competition-level court.

It’s looking to establish a public-private partnership to fund the project, which will include a minimum of 24 courts at Steed Park and is estimated to cost some $12 million.

The city has approved the design of the park and is now scouting for a financial partner.
In the meantime, the city is amid construction on a temporary, eight-court facility at San Gorgonio Park.

“We’re nearing completion there,” Duncan said.

San Clemente’s Business Hub

Though San Clemente hasn’t historically been known as a business hub, that hasn’t kept business from being attracted to the area and planting a flag there.

Notable companies that call San Clemente home include:

• Stance, an apparel company that specializes in socks, has its main flag at 197 Avenida La Pata, a 30,000-square-foot hub for the firm that includes a basketball court, skate park and other fun amenities. The company, which serves as the official sock supplier of the NBA, is reported to do well over $100 million in sales with a valuation cited around $500 million pre-pandemic.

• The co-founder of Stance, Taylor Shupe, launched FutureStitch around 2016. That San Clemente upstart produces tens of millions of socks, compression sleeves and knit shoe uppers every year.

• ICU Medical Inc., a supplier of infusion therapy-related medical equipment, is one of Orange County’s most valuable publicly traded medical device makers with a $2.4 billion valuation as of last week (Nasdaq: ICUI).

Rip Curl, surf apparel company, operates under parent KMD Brands Ltd. along Avenida La Pata, near Stance.

• CareTrust Reit Inc. (NYSE: CTRE), which has a $2.7 billion market cap, invests in senior hausing.­

• Sonance, an independently owned audio solutions company specializing in architectural speakers.

• Glaukos Corp. (NYSE: GKOS) moved its headquarters last year from San Clemente to Aliso Viejo, but the medical device maker still counts a notable presence in San Clemente, specifically a pair of industrial buildings for research and development.

• Similar to Glaukos, defense contractor Anduril Industries is not based in San Clemente but counts a base there, with local operations including testing for drone products.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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