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Politics

Grand Jury Says San Diego Should Increase Oversight Of Convention Center

A view of the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, June 1, 2014.
Michael Schuerman
A view of the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, June 1, 2014.

The city should amend a management agreement with the San Diego Convention Center Corp. to provide for greater oversight and clarify the types of expenditures for which each entity is responsible, the county grand jury recommended Tuesday.

Those were among 10 recommendations issued by the grand jury in a 15- page report on the agency that operates the San Diego Convention Center.

The grand jury's report honed in on a series of problems, including a $7.8 million payment by the corporation on a stalled expansion project — a transaction that depleted its reserves for a few years and forced the postponement of some maintenance projects.

While the agency has started to rebuild its reserve account, there is nothing in the management agreement that authorizes the corporation to spend money on a planned expansion project, according to the report.

The corporation also needs to enhance transparency regarding its finances, particularly for the city's annual contribution and the facility's economic impact on the region, the grand jury found.

The report said the center's annual budget lists city payments of around $3.4 million for marketing, promotions and capital projects when the true total is nearly $17.4 million. Most of the difference is debt service on a previous expansion project.

Among other recommendations, the grand jury suggested:

• amending the management agreement to require corporation officials report at least semi-annually to an appropriate City Council committee;

• having the city's and corporation's chief financial officers determine an appropriate reserve level; — mandating that the corporations annual budget reflect all city contributions, or at least make the information conspicuously available in its publications and website;

• integrating the center's bondable capital improvement projects into the city's capital improvement program;

• commissioning a study on alternative methods of managing the center, like outsourcing to the private sector; and

• studying the effectiveness of a booking system in which corporation staff brings in smaller meetings and the San Diego Tourism Authority recruits major trade shows.

City and Convention Center Corp. officials have until Aug. 17 to respond to the findings.