Convention Center Expansion Bid, Bolts Stadium Linked by Legalities

The future of San Diego's Convention Center -- and prospects for a new stadium nearby -- are both at stake in lawsuits scheduled for courtroom arguments next week.

Up to a billion dollars' worth of building contracts alone hang in the balance.

At issue is the legality of hotel room-rate surcharges that would generate $520 million, to cover most of the costs of expanding the Convention Center.

Critics including Mayor Filner say the surcharges are unlawful taxes.

If the courts agree, look for the Chargers to make a play that would take thing in a new direction -- with the mayor's support.

"If for any reason -- whether it's the court next week or the Coastal Commission in a few months -- the existing Convention center expansion is struck down,” Chargers special counsel told NBC 7 in an interview Thursday, “we would stand ready to present an alternative which would be a multi-use stadium with a retractable fabric roof on the East Village site, a couple blocks from the Convention Center."

Fabiani outlines a concept light-years beyond what the Chargers began touting long ago – a stadium on limited acreage east of Petco Park -- before the proposal to expand the Center materialized late in the last decade.

It’s more along the lines of the Farmers Field approach that Los Angeles interests have rolled out, only to see it back-burnered in recent days as being financially and logistically untenable for the time being.

The Bolts say even an expanded Convention Center could never accommodate the kinds of gatherings and trade shows that their multi-use facility would handle, while hosting a vast array of sporting events besides football, along with major national conventions, trade shows and entertainment bookings.

Mayor Filner is standing on the Chargers' sideline where all this is concerned.

"I have voiced the opinion that the financing mechanism of the Convention Center (expansion) is illegal; I think that's what the judge will find,” Filner said in a Thursday interview. “ But we have to work with whatever he does. If it's legal, we'll move forward on it. If it's illegal, we'll step back."

Fabiani says the Chargers’ plan is more cost-effective than a dueling-venues approach: "Building two separate facilities so close to one another has never made economic sense. If you put it all in one building, you can have enormous savings because the infrastructure for the stadium would also serve the convention business … you could attract events we'll never, ever be able to attract here in San Diego even if we did expand the Convention Center."

Adds Filner: "I think conventioneers will love it … you have the ability to economically develop both where the Sports Arena now is and Qualcomm (Stadium ) now is -- enormous economic potential for the city. That could pay -- more than pay -- for the kinds of ideas that are coming up. And then we have a public vote on it all."

Even if the expansion project funding is upheld in court and survives a Coastal Commission review, the Chargers say they'd proceed with their plan anyway because there'd still be so much demand for space and bookings that the Convention Center could not accommodate.

"It also gets the attention of naming rights partners,” Fabiani said. “ We've met with some major companies that want to buy naming rights, and they're a lot more interested in naming rights on a multi-use facility. They're willing to pay a lot more for them because the name is out there much more often."

We should know by Monday afternoon which way Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager is leaning in the Convention Center surcharge cases.

He's giving the lawyers a courtroom hearing Wednesday on his tentative ruling before issuing a final decision.

Either way it goes, appeals are expected.

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