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Outgoing chamber of commerce CEO Mark Bodenhamer reflects on past work, hopes for future
By Allison Jarrell
After seven years of serving as the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Mark Bodenhamer bid farewell to the community last week as he and his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Bodenhamer’s wife, Tallia Hart, was recently hired as the new CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Hart was previously the CEO of the Irvine Chamber of Commerce.
The San Juan chamber’s installation dinner on June 7 served as an emotional night of goodbyes and well wishes for Bodenhamer, who thanked the chamber board, community members, volunteers, business leaders and his staff—chamber operations manager Jennifer Pointer and program manager Claire Sussex—for making his time in San Juan a memorable and rewarding ride.
The Capistrano Dispatch asked Bodenhamer a few questions before he left for San Francisco, and he shared the following reflections:
His proudest moments and accomplishments with the chamber:
Bodenhamer said when he reflects on his last seven years at the chamber, he thinks of “big picture” improvements and the efforts of the entire community rather than individual achievements.
“When I got here, there were a lot of empty storefronts. There was a general consensus that the downtown was struggling. If you look around now, it’s still not easy for anybody, but there are a lot of new storefronts and restaurants. The downtown is buzzing with new, exciting additions, like Trevor’s at the Tracks and the Mission store and gateway. I see it as more of a vibrant destination than when I first got here.”
When asked about challenges the business community has overcome through the years, Bodenhamer recalled the collaborative effort of the city, chamber and business leaders to survive the Ortega Highway interchange project.
“That was a huge success for us, especially with the amount of outreach we did leading up to the Ortega Interchange project. For six months, then-mayor John Taylor and City Manager Karen Brust walked with us to every business in town and spoke with everyone who was impacted by the project. We did everything that we could to arm people with good information and resources.”
The future of San Juan and its business community:
“The most important things we need are the hotels. We need not one, but both of them. And we need to do everything we can to expedite their completion.”
Bodenhamer said the additional Transient Occupancy Tax revenue from the hotels will help to beautify downtown and will help support local restaurants and retail businesses.
“I know I’m preaching to the choir. There’s really nothing more important that we could do than finding a path forward for both of these hotel projects.”
Bodenhamer said the city will also need to tackle parking issues in the near future.
“We can try all of these wonderful, creative ideas for generating economic growth, but we have a hard cap on parking with only so many spaces, and that impacts everybody, not just shops and restaurants.”
Bodenhamer said new developments and hotels adding parking spaces downtown will help alleviate that problem.
“People who want to come into town and visit the Mission or grab lunch are staying in Dana Point or Irvine or somewhere else, and they have to drive to town and park. By adding parking at hotels, you’re getting a two-for-one for that parking space, because that’s adding another space a day visitor can use elsewhere.”
And finally, Bodenhamer said he hopes that a renewed focus from the City Council will help the business community continue to thrive.
“Stability and a spirit of compromise from the City Council would help as well. Ongoing drama there soaks up a lot of the attention. We’re handling things as they’re coming toward us. We need to take the time to look forward and make proactive plans.”
What he’ll remember and miss about San Juan Capistrano:
“I’ll always remember how passionate people are about the town, about protecting the things that are important to them. Recognizing that passion has been a positive thing for me and has allowed me to see things from the perspective of people I don’t always agree with. I’ve learned over time that they care about the town just as much as I do; they just have a slightly different vision to achieve the things we all want. The people and businesses of San Juan Capistrano truly care about this town.”
“It’s been an amazing seven years. I don’t take for granted how much I’ve been able to wake up excited to get to work every day. I had the opportunity to work with so many cool people and do things that are important and make a difference. When you walk around downtown and Reata Park, the Northwest Open Space and the barns, it really does motivate you to roll up your sleeves and do your best to help people so the community can continue to prosper and do the things it’s already good at.”
Being named Honorary Man of the Year:
“It was truly humbling, and it made me feel great about my time here. It can be a difficult job, stuck in the middle of a lot of politics. Running a chamber is a complicated thing—it’s a small business that you’re running, but your primary goal is not your own business, but the people you’re trying to represent. The ever-changing politics in town are often complicated, so it’s the type of job where you’re basically trying to feel your way through what the best course is all the time. You’re in the thick of it. So to have that moment and have everybody pause and say that you’ve done a good job was great.”
“I’m happy to accept the award, but I can’t get too excited about it, because I was just showing up to my job and doing it to the best of my ability. The award is really a reflection of everybody, the entire business community and our volunteers. I hope they take pride in that award; the credit belongs to hundreds of people, not just me.”
“I’m honored to have had the privilege to represent such an amazing place. It was quite a ride and a lot of fun.”
An executive committee of the chamber is currently working on recruiting a new executive director. Applications are being accepted through June 28 and can be sent to email@example.com.