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University Club Redesigned for Modern Times

Monday, August 23 2010

Patrons Will Mix Work, Play in Posh Panoramic Tower 

San Diego Business Journal - by Lou Hirsh

Monday, August 23, 2010

The downtown space that houses San Diego’s century-old University Club has embarked on a 21st century renovation, targeting the social networking needs of time-strapped, multitasking business professionals who can’t avoid taking their work beyond the office.

Dallas-based ClubCorp, which operates private clubs across the nation, has begun construction on a $2.4 million renovation of University Club Atop Symphony Towers. When phased-in improvements are completed around mid-October, the club will be 3,600 square feet larger and take up the entire 34th floor of the office tower at 750 B St.

Operators are retaining the elegance of the club’s formal dining and meeting rooms. But they’re also knocking down walls, updating furniture, renovating the bar and adding casual-dining and lounge areas to provide more informal gathering spots.

The club will have four new private-dining rooms and a members-only dining room. There will be a big-screen multimedia room with a 103-inch plasma TV; “office away from office” spaces with Wi-Fi and equipment to conduct work; and enhanced state-of-the-art technological upgrades throughout the property for meetings and events.

Members and their guests will eventually be able to battle it out on an advanced Nintendo video gaming system, and attend sports TV viewing parties, movie premieres and live concerts. On-site management training and self-improvement programs, and even yoga classes, are also in the works.

Walls will be lined with uniquely San Diego touches, including sports memorabilia such as the actual bats of past San Diego Padres baseball legends.

At Forefront of Renovations

Tommy Trause, general manager in charge of daily operations at the San Diego club, said this is one of three current ClubCorp renovations — the others are in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla. — aimed at “re-imagining” the private-club experience. Operators want to accommodate a wider range of professionals — men and women across all ages — increasingly looking to boost their social networking without detracting from work responsibilities.

“We’re not looking to become a hip club,” Trause said. “The idea is to make this accessible, to make it the kind of place that people want to come to, and spend some time.”

Feedback from the San Diego renovation will be used to inform future upgrades at ClubCorp’s other U.S. properties. Trause noted the San Diego club has already begun offering tech-oriented conveniences to members — such as lending out iPads and other mobile devices, so they can stay in contact with the office during visits.

Private clubs like the one in San Diego have been changing to reflect shifts in the way people socialize during and after work, with an emphasis on fewer power lunches and more casual gatherings. Settings have long been moving beyond stuffy, low-lit Victorian-style rooms filled with overstuffed chairs, to emphasize localized tastes and customs.

“The heyday of business clubs was the 1980s and early 1990s, when meetings were very much geared to the formal dining environment,” said Dolf Berle, executive vice president of hospitality for ClubCorp, which operates 53 business and sports clubs nationwide, along with 90 golf course country clubs.

“We look at this as a re-imagining, in line with the realities of how people balance their social and work lives, to make this less dining-centric,” Berle said.

Membership on Upswing

Trause noted that the San Diego club’s membership, currently at more than 1,600, has continued to grow in recent years, but the economy has caused some shifts in spending.

“We actually had an increase in visitors during the past year, but the average check went down a little,” he said. “Some people might have spent a little less on food, or maybe chose a less expensive bottle of wine, for instance.”

The Symphony Towers club has long hosted a variety of high-profile community events, and since 1989 has been home to the University Club, which was formally organized in 1909 to support funding and improvement of higher education programs.

University Club board chairman Douglas Wilson, who developed Symphony Towers 20 years ago and heads a downtown-based real estate services company, said club leaders are pleased to see operators responding to changes in the local business and civic community — especially the rising number of young professionals now living and working downtown.

“It’s always been a nice place to take a business associate from out of town or maybe a family member for something a little more formal,” Wilson said. “This is going to open it up to a lot more casual interactions.

“I think it’s flattering that ClubCorp would choose our club as one of the places to make such a big investment,” he added.

Spectacular View

ClubCorp enlisted locally based architectural firm Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker to design the University Club renovation. Among the most noticeable changes under way is a reconfiguring of the club’s already panoramic outlook on downtown.

“You’ll step off the elevator and the view will be even bigger than it is now,” Wilson said.

Symphony Towers, currently owned by The Irvine Co. LLC, houses Copley Symphony Hall on its ground level and has several prominent corporate tenants. The University Club moved there after relocating from another downtown office building at Seventh Avenue and A Street.