City Approves Convention Center Booking Deal

Critics say the hotel interests hold too great a sway over Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Gene Cubbison and Lauren Steussy
|  Tuesday, Mar 20, 2012  |  Updated 9:28 PM PDT
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On Tuesday, the Council approved a dual approach to booking events at the Convention Center. Gene Cubbison highlights the contentious debate, with commentary from union advocate Lorena Gonzales and Mayor Jerry Sanders.

On Tuesday, the Council approved a dual approach to booking events at the Convention Center. Gene Cubbison highlights the contentious debate, with commentary from union advocate Lorena Gonzales and Mayor Jerry Sanders.

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On Tuesday, the Council approved a dual approach to booking events at the Convention Center.

The calls for the Convention and Visitors Bureau (ConVis) to book meetings 18 months in advance. That way, the Convention Center Corporation will be focusing on events in the shorter term.

The decision was pushed to Tuesday's City Council meeting, where several public speakers gathered to voice their objections or urge approval.

“Even through there is some disagreement today, there’s still widespread agreement on building this convention center,” said Councilman Kevin Faulconer.

The council voted 7-1 to approve the plan, with Councilmember David Alvarez dissenting.

The vote was critical in moving forward in a hotel tax proposed by city leaders. Supporters said ConVis taking over trade show marketing will help the Convention Center earn more revenue.

“Everything’s got to be in place," said Councilwoman Marti Emerald. "Because an expanded convention center handled the right way would be a real plus -- not just for us but for future generations.”

Critics objected to the merge, saying hotel interests hold too great a sway over ConVis.

Backers of the setup say it improves prospects that major hotels will accept hikes of as much as 3-percent on room taxes to help fund a $520 million expansion of the Convention Center.

"It requires an aggressive approach to sales and marketing," said Mayor Jerry Sanders, an advocate of the plan. "The convention industry is highly competitive, and we must outsell other cities."

Others attacked the council for the way members handled the decision.

"That is a clear quid pro quo that was developed behind closed doors," said Lorena Gonzalez of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. "It is a payoff, and we should not be held hostage by hoteliers in this town."

Hotel owners' ballots on the room tax issue are now in circulation, due April 23rd.

The Council's Independent Budget Analyst is expected to report on the Convention Center marketing agreement within 90 days.

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