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Convention Center Expansion Plan

Convention Center Expansion Plan

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, the Port of San Diego gave the San Diego Convention Center Corporation a major boost toward expanding the convention center so that huge conventions can be accommodated. With me to analyze the land deal between the port and the convention center are Scott Lewis, CEO of and Tom York, contributing editor for the San Diego Business Journal. Tom, why is this move a significant step toward expanding the convention center?

TOM YORK (San Diego Business Journal): Well I think city officials especially at the convention center are anxious to show Comic-Con, that they're very serious about keeping them here after 2012. So they're trying to put all of the pieces in place as quickly as possible to get this thing rolling so that they can use that as a poker chip for part of the bargaining.

PENNER: Well Comic-Con has been coming to San Diego for years and years. It’s that pop culture, comic book convention that’s growing every year. How do you think this played into this move between the port and the convention center?


SCOTT LEWIS ( Well Comic-Con is kind of a symbol of a larger group of large conventions that the convention center and city and mayor believe they're losing because of the fact that the convention center is smaller than other facilities. And so they say we have to enlarge this because we’ve turned down – four hundred they claim – large conventions. The problem is they bought this piece of land and they agreed to pay for it, but they have actually no way to pay for it yet. And there're a lot of people wondering how they’ll do that. And whether the sacrifice they’ll have to make to do that is worth whatever they're going to not fund or buy in exchange.

PENNER: So there is a question about how it will be paid for. But what kind of economic impact would – does the convention center have on San Diego and what would the expansion do?

YORK: Well, take Comic-Con. The estimates are that that convention over five days, there is $60 million that’s pumped into the local economy. And so when you multiply that out by the number of conventions that go on in a year, you can see that it’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry. And so it impacts everyone. It has a very positive economic impact on the community.

PENNER: Well, we talked with Marney Cox, chief economist for SANDAG. His thoughts – we asked him his thoughts on expanding the convention center to be able to accommodate large conventions like Comic-Con.

MARNEY COX (Chief Economist, SANDAG): You have to ask yourself for whatever the money is that the public would be spending on this, what other items could it also be purchasing with that same funds. There are a laundry list of items that from the city of San Diego to all the other jurisdictions in the region today that they could list that are important to them. And we've seen sewer breaks, we have water shortages, we have power problems. A long laundry list of things that are perhaps more important to the residents here in the region if you tried to stack them up against how we may spend our tax dollars and what next best thing to buy for the residents that would benefit everybody.


PENNER: Would the expansion of the convention center be a good use of public funds of taxpayer money?

LEWIS: I think that’s in question. There's definitely not consensus. As Marney just said, there are a lot of other things that this region can benefit from. You know, if you pursue conventions you're pursuing a set pie of businesses – a group of people that take their conventions around the country. That’s not going to grow. You're just hoping for a larger slice of that pie. Now, take tech businesses though in San Diego. Those are businesses that grow, that add jobs, make pies bigger. And what do they want? They want water. They want good parks. They want good places to live. Could this money be used to provide those things instead? And that’s the question that a lot of people – a lot of smart people like Mr. Cox – are asking about whether this is the best use of our resources.

PENNER: Ok. So suppose it doesn’t come from public funding. Where else could $750 million come from?

LEWIS: There’s no way it doesn’t come from public funding. It will come from tax increases on hotel rooms, rental cars, maybe perhaps a business improvement district among the businesses that actually benefit from it. But there's going to be a whole panoply of sources for this.

PENNER: What do you think the main argument is in favor of expanding the convention center?

YORK: Well we have this huge infrastructure in place. We have the convention center, we have the hotels, we have all the restaurants. We have a whole system set up to accommodate conventions. And if we don’t go forward and keep up with the trends, we’ll fall behind. And there's an argument – an argument could be made is that, you know, the economy, our local economy could suffer. That this infrastructure could, you know, wither away.

PENNER: Well we’re talking about it, Tom. But what opportunity does the public have to participate in the process?

YORK: Well I think the way the public participates is they elect people to office who maybe favor their viewpoint.

LEWIS: Well the next step in this process will be an environmental review to decide whether this is going to work or not. And the public will have a chance to comment on that.