The City Council heard from many public speakers Monday about a plan to finance the expansion of the Convention Center by raising hotel room taxes.
In the proposed ballot measure, voters would be asked to raise hotel room taxes to fund a $685 million expansion of the Convention Center.
Backers say the plan would raise $900 million to $1 billion, earmarked for addressing the city’s growing homeless problem. But the Deputy Director of the Independent Budget Analyst told the City Council on Monday that money won’t be available for many years.
“It’s important to note these figures represent projections only over a very long period of time,” said Jeff Kawar.
Backers of the plan to expand the Convention Center said the need remains urgent.
They say, every year, the organization turns away more than 400 conventions due to a lack of space, leaving millions on the table.
The project requires that two-thirds of voters agree to hike the hotel tax, which they have already rejected twice before. The prior proposals did not include funding for an expansion of the Convention Center or for the homeless.
But that’s not the project’s biggest hurdle.
Right now, it’s Fifth Avenue Landing, a superyacht dockage company that controls some land along the San Diego Bay. The company has control over the property rights and wants to build a hotel on the exact same land where city leaders would like to expand the Convention Center.
Incredibly, the city doesn’t even have access to the land where it wants to expand the Convention Center.
The mayor is currently negotiating with the Fifth Avenue Landing corporation.
NBC 7 spoke with the projects' backers Monday about what might happen if the city and the company fail to reach an agreement.
Hotelier Mike McDowell said the industry is keeping a positive outlook that the negotiations will be successful.
“We think as community partners, the folks at Fifth Avenue Landing understand their position in terms of allowing a very important civic project to go forward,” McDowell said.
At the meeting, City Council members asked staff for more answers on how the project could move forward or what would happen if Fifth Avenue Landing hangs onto its leasehold to build a new hotel on the site.
City Council members listened to both perspectives on the issue from several dozen people Monday, with more than 80 public comment slips turned in. In the public comment forms, more than 60 people listed that they were opposed to the financing plan and about 15 indicated that they wanted to speak in support of it.
“It is not an urgent need to expand the Convention Center when you have people dying on the streets,” said Susan Morse, one opponent of the project.
McDowell said the industry contributes hundreds of thousands of jobs to the local economy.
“We believe that the expansion of the Convention Center is primary to the growth of the tourism economy, and we’re prepared to tax ourselves basically and work with the community to get that done,” McDowell said at a news conference before the City Council meeting.