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Convention And Visitors Bureau To Take Over Convention Center Trade Shows

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau will take over the booking of trade shows at the Convention Center that are at least 18 months away, following approval of the proposal today by both the City Council and Convention Center Board of Directors.

Joe Terzi, ConVis president and chief executive officer, said the center is very well run, but sales could improve.

"The booking patterns have been stagnating in the past couple of years," Terzi told council members.

Other supporters of the move say the local convention business has been filled with peaks and valleys.

The City Council approved the plan on a 7-1 vote, with David Alvarez dissenting.

The convention center board's vote was unanimous. Director Mick Musella resigned just before the vote, but his reasons were unclear.

The plan was strongly opposed by area organized labor leaders.

Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, called it a "blatant quid pro quo" for hoteliers who will, via increased room taxes, provide the bulk of funding for the Convention Center's financing. Hotels are well represented on the ConVis board.

Steve Cushman, a former center director who was a consultant for Mayor Jerry Sanders on the plan, said the plan to shift marketing to ConVis arose from council opposition to putting more hoteliers on the Convention Center board.

"It was an arrangement everybody could buy," Cushman said.

Expansion of the center alone will not guarantee the growth of local tourism, Sanders said.

"It requires an aggressive approach to sales and marketing," the mayor said. "The convention industry is highly competitive, and we must be able to outsell other cities."

The motion approved by the council included several alterations from the original mayor's proposal:

-- the timeline for dividing bookings between center staff and ConVis was set at 18 months instead of 14 months;

-- excess revenues for the center will be split 75 percent for capital improvement projects at the facility to 25 percent for sales and marketing, compared to the 50-50 originally proposed; and

-- the City Council strengthened its oversight over future operations of the center.

Despite claims by the plan's supporters about inconsistent bookings by the center, the key measurement of concern to council members was hotel room nights because they generate tax revenues for the city's general fund -- which pays for basic services. The number of annual room nights has increased the past two fiscal years, from 676,670 in 2009 to more than 709,000 in 2010 and over 735,000 in 2011.

The recent high was fiscal year 2007, when 738,758 room nights were booked.

In 2000, the figure was 448,475 room nights.

Both tourism agencies were ordered to report on how the change is being implemented to the council's Economic Development and Strategies Committee in the near future.

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