A plan to expand the San Diego Convention Center cleared a huge hurdle after being approved by the California Coastal Commission on Thursday in Mission Valley.
With unanimous approval, the Coast Commission agreed to move forward with plans to expand the convention center, which will add 740,000 square feet to the building.
About 90 people spoke at the meeting before the decision was made.
At issue was whether or not Coastal Commissioners would approve the $520 million dollar plan after the staff gave it a thumbs down, primarily because it did not include a pedestrian bridge for better public access.
Activist and outspoken critic of the plan, Cory Briggs, said the project over-promised and argued that it's blatantly illegal.
"Today the port and the city are trying to pull the rug from out beneath all of us. Don't let them do it. Reject this," Briggs said.
Tanya Castaneda, Public Information Officer with Port of San Diego, disagreed.
"Every time we hold a convention we have people coming in who wouldn't otherwise be here. They are staying in our hotels, they're dinning at our restaurants and they are spending money on local attractions," Castaneda told NBC 7 San Diego.
Castaneda added that, among other improvements, the project will adjust truck traffic behind the convention center in order to widen public walking areas. It will also construct a 5-acre park atop the convention center which will be open to the public from seven different access points.
In a survey released Tuesday, the San Diego Convention Center Corp. reported that 95 percent of meeting planners considered having a large, contiguous exhibit space a critical or very important factor in choosing a location.
Furthermore, expansion supporters said the convention center could attract as many as 25 additional major conventions and trade shows to San Diego annually.
Earlier, the Chargers submitted an alternative plan to the expansion proposal which includes the construction of a football stadium in the East Village that would also provide space for conventions. The team said their plan could be considered as a fallback if the commission rejected the current plan.
Though the expansion plan has the approval of the Coastal Commission, officials said the project may also have to deal with legal challenges, which have been filed over how the project’s construction would be paid for.