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Filner Withholding Tourism Money, Agency To Shut Down Monday

UPDATE 5:48 p.m. PST: Filner's office has just released the following statement:

"I have had enough of the whining and complaining from the wealthiest hotels in America. It was only days ago that they submitted at bill! We will issue their money when they hold up their end of the bargain, for example, approving payments to the Balboa Park Centennial. This idle and baseless threat is beneath them and I urge them to grow up and do business the right way. The City of San Diego will not be held hostage by such antics."


A new squabble over tourism funding erupted today when Mayor Bob Filner blasted the agency that promotes San Diego to prospective tourists for failing to honor a commitment to fund organizers of an upcoming celebration of Balboa Park's centennial.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Mayor Bob Filner talks to reporters about his proposed budget.

In remarks to City News Service, Filner said he wants to withhold most of the money due to the San Diego Tourism Marketing District until the TMD funds Balboa Park Centennial Committee, which has incorporated as Balboa Park Celebration Inc.

However, a spokesman for the committee said the group has received "excellent'' feedback on its application for funds from the tourism district, and plans to make a formal presentation to its board of directors.

Meanwhile, another organization funded by the district, the San Diego Tourism Authority -- formerly known as the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau or ConVis -- was preparing to shut down for lack of money.

An earlier months-long dispute over providing administrative money to the Tourism Marketing District, which funds the SDTA and other organizations that attract visitors to San Diego, ended in April with an agreement that, among other things, directed 5 percent of TMD revenue to centennial celebration organizers.

The centennial committee would have to apply for the money like every other group funded by the tourism district, under terms of the deal.

The mayor told City News Service that the tourism district board "told the centennial committee that they're going to be last on the list'' of applicants for money and that there may not be much money left. "I want that money to come off the top,'' he said.

He said the TMD gave the city an invoice for around $6 million only about a week ago, and it takes two or three weeks for the city to cut a check.

The agency should give 5 percent, or $300,000, straight to the centennial committee before it provides for other needs, he said.

"What they want to do is spend all the money on ConVis and the salaries, and then if there's any money left, they'll give 5 percent of that to the centennial committee,'' Filner said. "I'm not going to accept that. That's not what the agreement said, that's not what we talked about.''

He concluded his remarks by saying, "We will give them a check for 5 percent of their total, and when they give that to the centennial, they will get the rest.''

Neither the TMD nor SDTA have not immediately responded to requests for comment.

Terry Brown, the district board chairman, told U-T San Diego in a statement that the "board at our meeting last week committed to funding the centennial in exact conformance with the amended operating agreement.

Unfortunately, the amount of money available for disbursement was less than the mayor wanted and he indicated that he would continue to withhold the tourism funding.''

Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi told the newspaper that the organization would close down Monday because it won't be able to pay its employees.

Centennial Committee spokesman Gerry Braun sent City News Service a statement that said "feedback on the application has been excellent.''

"Balboa Park Celebration Inc. is not a party to any negotiations between the City and the TMD,'' Braun said. "We are busily planning a yearlong celebration that will benefit San Diego's citizens and economy, and bring additional tourists to local hotels.

"We do not see ourselves as competitors with the San Diego Tourism Authority, but as working toward complementary goals,'' Braun said.

The group is planning a yearlong celebration for 2015, which would be 100 years since the Panama-California Exposition at the park.

The TMD is funded by a 2 percent charge on hotel room rates. Revenue is then directed to organizations that bring visitors to San Diego, like the SDTA, organizers of the city's two college football bowl games and San Diego Bayfair.

The city of San Diego provides some administrative funds.

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