Santa Clara’s one-time humming Chamber of Commerce has fallen from stardom to humdrum.
You might remember the enthusiasm emanating from the Chamber building on Warburton and Scott. The Santa Clara Chamber had worked with the City for years. They were a major force and contribution to the building of the Convention Center. Initially blossoming from the enthusiasm and genius of Betty Hangs, and carried forward by her understudy, Steve Van Dorn, the Chamber became an energetic organization promoting business for the City.
Van Dorn was such a personality that he was retained by virtually every organization in town to emcee their annual events.
The Chamber and the City had a powerful and profitable working relationship, which provided wide exposure for both. The Chamber negotiated a management agreement with the City to operate the Convention Center. This arrangement made millions for the City and in turn, allowed the Chamber to purchase the Warburton building a block from City Hall.
In the Chamber’s final year of management, it turned in a $2 million profit to the City from the Convention Center.
The Chamber had become self-supporting through the management agreement of the Convention Center. In one night, this profitable, high-profile partnership was dissolved.
In a shocking decision by Mayor Lisa Gillmor, her council majority and the new axe and hatchet city manager, Deanna Santana, they voted to strip the Chamber of the management agreement and the relationship.
Gillmor and Santana eviscerated the Convention Center, hiring a Santana crony who was fired from San José after losing $20 million as a result of his incompetence, mismanagement and self-dealing. In addition to bringing this maestro of malfeasance to Santa Clara, Santana hired another crony to advise the convention center, who was subsequently indicted for embezzlement by his next employer, the City of Fremont. No surprise, Convention Center revenue tanked.
And the Chamber? It has withered into a skeleton, moving out of its building; selling it and living off the cash in a shared office space in town. The cash is nearly gone and, in turn, the few remnants of a once dynamic team have given birth to only memories.
Even with the Chamber evaporating, Santa Clara’s Convention Center could be, should be, a major attraction for events on the Northside. This place should be humming. And could be with some help from a facelift, expansion and marketing.
Santa Clara Convention Center is the only convention facility between San Mateo and San Jose. What an opportunity. It is close to San Jose International Airport — closer than San José Convention Center — great facilities, hotels, restaurants, entertainment and parking.
It should be producing millions for Santa Clara.