Monday, October 10, 2011
The City Council today unanimously voted to approve the legal framework for an assessment district to pay for the proposed $550-million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.
City officials want to pay for the project with a levy on hoteliers who would benefit from having bigger conventions in a larger building. The council's action did not go so far as to approve either the project or the amount of the fee.
Several more council actions and a vote by the affected hotel owners would be required before the Convention Center Facilities District could be formed. The vote is tentatively scheduled for next April; if the district is approved, an ordinance to provide for collection of the special tax would take effect two months later.
Once that happened, hotels downtown would be charged 3 percent of their room rates. Mission Valley hotels would pay 2 percent and hotels farther out 1 percent.
City and convention officials say 111 conference organizers have bypassed San Diego as a destination in recent years, despite being interested in coming, because other towns offer more space. The show with the biggest impact on San Diego, Comic-Con International, was nearly moved to Anaheim or Los Angeles because of space limitations.
The project would increase the size of the building by 961,187 square feet, to more than 2.75 million square feet. The floor space of meeting rooms and ballrooms would double under the plan.
Charles Black, who is leading the expansion project, said the center would have the largest contiguous exhibit hall on the West Coast and an 80,000-square-foot ballroom with large windows facing San Diego Bay.
The legal framework approved by the council does not address a new stadium for the Chargers, who have suggested their desired new home in the East Village could also include convention space.
A consultant's study showed a bigger center could book an additional 25 major events each year, bringing an extra 247,000 visitors to San Diego, which translates to 657,000 extra hotel room nights worth $121 million annually, Black said.
Tom Lemmon, of the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, and Lorena Gonzalez, of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, both said they supported the concept of the expansion, but needed clarification on the benefits for local workers.
"Construction right now is at an all-time low and construction workers are hurting,'' Lemmon said.
Council President Tony Young said he would make sure labor issues are addressed by the panel before the expansion is approved.