San Diego

Mayor's Convention Center Expansion Plan Faces Major Hurdles

Mayor Kevin Faulconer pledged to get it accomplished in his State of the City Address on Thursday.

With the Chargers now gone, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has shifted his focus on keeping Comic-Con in San Diego by increasing hotel room taxes to support a Convention Center expansion.

Faulconer highlighted the idea in his State of the City address at Balboa Theatre on Thursday night, essentially defibrillating a proposal that critics say is on life support.

The proposal to expand the Convention Center has some obvious hurdles, and they are coming to light as the proposal is challenged in court.

One big issue is the fact that there is no financing plan to pay for the approximately $700 million construction project. In fact, the city doesn’t even have access to the land where it would go. To complicate things further, another company is planning to build a 500-room hotel in the exact same spot.

A Superior Court decision on a lawsuit aimed at stopping the decades-long push for expansion will be made soon.

“There are several challenges that remain ahead. The first of which we’re going to have an answer on pretty soon,” said Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, who has also served as the chairman of the Convention Center.

Nelson said despite the many obstacles, the plan has broad public support.

“Whether it’s because people realize the Convention Center generates tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue a year to use for police services, roads and parks, or whether it’s just because they like to attend the Auto Show every year, the plan to expand has strong public support,” Nelson said.

People out enjoying Marina Park Friday agreed.

“We need more money and revenue to come here to San Diego, so building that expansion here will definitely bring more people out,” said Gabriel Tan, a runner who was enjoying the Embarcadero on Friday.

Greg Bartz, who was also enjoying the waterfront, agreed.

“They need to keep Comic-Con here and keep the money flowing into San Diego, especially now with the Chargers gone,” Bartz said.

It could be a tough road to getting it done, though.

The city doesn’t have access to a swath of land in between the Convention Center and the San Diego Bay where it wants to build the extra convention space.

The company that does have the lease plans to build a hotel in the exact same spot where the Convention Center would expand.

Nelson said the city could negotiate a deal with that company or even take the land by eminent domain.

A study into the environmental impacts of the proposed hotel just began, and the hotel blueprint has not gained approval of the Coastal Commission.

Faulconer said in his State-of-the-City address that he wants to raise the tax on hotel room rates to fund the expansion, after the previous financing plan was thrown out in court.

That could be the biggest hurdle because it would now require approval of two-thirds of voters, thanks to a recent change in state law.

“The financing is a big deal. When you have to get two-thirds of the voters to agree on anything, it’s very, very difficult,” Nelson said. “I’m not even sure that you could get two-thirds of voters to agree that today is Friday.”

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