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San Diego Speaks: Convention Center Expansion

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GLORIA PENNER (Host): Last weekend, the annual Comic-Con extraveganza descended upon San Diego with close to 140,000 people participating in the four-day event at the downtown convention center. There is no disagreement that Comic-Con brings in money to the region, generating an estimated $42 million for the local economy, but some folks are worried tha Comic-Con has become so popular that it has outgrown the convention center and it will leave after 2012. Now is that enough to convince San Diegans that the convention center needs to expand? KPBS reporter Sharon Heilbrunn brings us this report. SHARON HEILBRUNN (Reporter): When Comic-Con descends on San Diego, it brings more than costumed characters and comic books. It brings money. A week ago, close to 140,000 people filled the San Diego Convention Center, slept in nearby hotels, and ate in local restaurants. But when Comic-Con's contract runs out in San Diego in 2012, will in renew? Has it outgrown San Diego, setting its sights instead on cities like Anaheim or Las Vegas, where the Convention Centers are bigger? The answer is hard to com by. That's because the convention center hopes to expand in the near future, and bring an additional 2,000 square feet of exhibit space to its building. It would allow not only for bigger conventions, says Steven Johnson, vice president of public affairs for the Convention Center Corporation, but it would also mean that conventions could be held more consistently, ensuring that there is little down time in the Gaslamp area. Johnson adds that the convention center is an income generator, and last year contributed 32 million to tax revenues in the city. But not everyone is in favor of expansion. MARNEY COX (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. HEILBRUNN: The expansion would cost a little more than $750 million. It's unclear exactly how it would be funded at this point. Mayor Jerry Sanders has appointed a task force to evaluate the options for the convention center, and a final report is expected to be delivered to the mayor in September. We wanted to know: Who should pay for the expansion of the convention center? SERGIO FERIA (El Cerrito Resident): It's my thought that the public should not pay for it, and I question whether it's even needed. PAUL SIGNOR (North Park Resident): I'd be willing to pay for part of it as a taxpayer, but obviously the city should pay part of it, too. JOHN STUTTS (Downton Resident): I think the city, because it benefits the city more than it does the rest of the county. HEILBRUNN: Now, convention center officials say they don't think Comic-Con will leave the city, because it feels comfortable here, and San Diego is its home. We want to know what you think about the convention center. Log onto kpbs.org/sdweek and leave us a comment. For kpbs.org, I'm Sharon Heilbrunn.