Photo courtesy of Stacy Keck.
Liberty Station was running at 95% capacity before COVID hit in mid-March. Now, 10% of existing businesses remain closed.

Photo courtesy of Stacy Keck. Liberty Station was running at 95% capacity before COVID hit in mid-March. Now, 10% of existing businesses remain closed.

Before COVID-19, one of the main priorities for Pendulum Property Partners, management firm behind Liberty Station in Point Loma, was to fill vacancies.

At over 95% occupancy then, the aim was to find the right operators to take over the remaining locations, hopefully, by the end of the year.

Almost five months into the pandemic and, while finding viable tenants continues to be a pivotal growth move, a hefty part of the focus has shifted toward strategizing and finding creative ways to get existing businesses back up and running.

Fighting to Stay Open

“A lot of the phone calls I was receiving at first were from tenants asking, ‘what can we do about my rent?’” said Joe Haeussler, executive vice president of Pendulum Property Partners. “My approach was, let’s work together through these regulations and get you back open. I didn’t want to focus on rent. I just wanted tenants to get back to operating and then discuss strategies to right the ship on rent at a later date. It is challenging, but it gets our creative juices going because we want to celebrate all these businesses that are fighting to stay open.”

Essential businesses like Vons and Trader Joe’s have remained open. And, those that were able to reopen within guidelines, like Oggis Pizza and Brewing Co. and Five Guys, immediately did so albeit operating at a loss, he said.

“Operators were seeing anywhere between 10% and 20% of normal revenue upon reopening,” said Haeussler, “and some bounced back pretty well, reaching between 35% and 50% of normal revenue.”

Unconventional Routes

But, there were others that needed guidance and authorization to go in somewhat unconventional routes in order to operate. And, Liberty Station offered them enough fluidity to do just that.

For example, at Haeussler’s suggestion, Breakfast Republic teamed up with Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to use some of its outdoor space. Stone allowed Breakfast Republic to utilize the patio that is adjacent to them so that they can continue to stay open versus shut down, he said.

Gregg Frazer, vice president of hospitality at Stone, said Pendulum has been super hands-on with helping Liberty Station tenants figure out a plan of operation.

“Making sure that businesses have the ability to reopen at Liberty Station benefits all of us,” said Frazer. “So we’re open to anything we can do on our part to help re-activate Liberty Station as a whole.”

Elsewhere, Yoga Six took its sessions to a grassy area and, after hosting a few of its classes outside, Spark Cycle is also interested in hosting various of its lessons at an asphalt parking lot.

“We are encouraging all of our fitness tenants to go outdoors,” said Haeussler, adding that there are obviously some limitations and each is treated on a case-by-case basis. “We are even calling on nail salons to do their stuff on the lawn. It went from talking to how to get them open, strategizing and coming up with creative ways to do that. We are being flexible and working with people so that they can stay in business and stay alive.”

And, it appears this approach is working.

Right now, only 10% of tenants haven’t reopened to some capacity, said Haeussler, with the exception of new tenants scheduled to open later this year.

Ty Hauter, owner of Good Time Design, the hospitality group that owns The Presley, which opened in Liberty Station just last month, said what prompted him to move forward with the opening amid the pandemic was the vast amount of outdoor space that was at his disposal.

“We signed the lease before the pandemic had hit us in America, and we had no idea how crucial the large patio space would be,” he said. “The restaurant is roughly 80% outdoors, which is really the only reason we were able to move forward during this time. I’m so thankful that we have the opportunity to provide a space for diners to enjoy a meal outside, where they feel comfortable and safe – a luxury that many of our other venues do not have, unfortunately.”

Sense of Hope

It is this sense of hope Haeussler believes will help Liberty Station come out on the other side of this crisis. The goal, Haeussler said, is to get back to 100% of pre-COVID-19 revenue numbers between December and early 2021.

“We continue to work with tenants to navigate hurdles and be creative,” he said. “The more we do that and give people hope that there is a better day on the other side, the more we keep on plowing through this, the more envigored they are to get back to business.”