San Diego

Bayfront Site Offer Fuels Convention Center Intrigue

 The fight over the future of the San Diego Convention Center has taken some odd twists and turns.

While a proposed expansion project is tied up in court, neighboring port tenants approached Mayor Faulconer with a deal that’s raised a lot of eyebrows.

It involves four acres of bayfront property known as "Fifth Avenue Landing", which is under a port lease that expires in 2024.

The leaseholders offered it to the mayor for about $14 million, with a March 1st payment deadline -- otherwise, they'd build a hotel there.

So far, no dice has been rolled at City Hall.

"It feels, smacks of a weird deal where you can just get paid millions of dollars for not doing something, and it's hard to imagine another circumstance in the private sector where that works out,” says Voice of San Diego editor Scott Lewis. “But they've got a good lease and they've apparently got leverage that the city feels needs to be dealt with."

The lease covers a parking lot site that the Fifth Avenue Landing partners have held since 1984.

The Convention Center Corporation picked up the $400,000 annual payments to the port under an option that began in 2010, but ended in May after the center refused a $14 million balloon payment for the rest of the lease.

The original funding scheme for the proposed expansion project was invalidated in court, and a ruling on the legality of the project itself is due next month.

Backers of an measure that would pave the way for an East Village stadium and "campus-style" convention center say a waterfront expansion would be a disservice to downtown and the city as a whole.

"We support the Citizens Initiative because it takes away that twenty, thirty-year history in which all these decisions have been made in back rooms, by the hoteliers driving the decision-making process," says Steve Peace, senior adviser to JMI Realty Inc. – a leading corporate stakeholder in East Village and major contributor to the ballot drive.

“I’m not disparaging their (bayfront hoteliers) right to have an economic interest,” Peace told NBC 7 in an interview Monday, “but not at the expense of the rest of San Diego.”

Initiative supporters face a January 6th deadline for submitting the signatures of at least 66,000 city voters to qualify for the June state primary election.

They also have a campaign treasury of about $450,000.

So far, the measure has no organized opposition.

But expectations are, the lodging industry will come forward it it makes the ballot.

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