Expanding the existing San Diego Convention Center would bring more economic benefit to the city than building a separate facility down the street, according to a new study.
In its report released Aug. 28, Conventions, Sports & Leisure (CSL) weighed two options for a local convention center expansion: a “contiguous” option, which would add new space directly onto the existing waterfront center, and a “campus” option, which would build a new facility several blocks away.
The city of San Diego has been considering both options in an effort to retain events like Comic-Con and attract bigger ones.
CSL, a planning firm that consults on projects like convention centers, said its research shows more benefit would come from the contiguous option than the campus. On Monday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he supported that finding.
"The report showed very clearly that our best return on investment is to expand it right where it is, that there's a high demand for folks in the tourism industry that want to come to San Diego,” he said. “We keep great conventions here like Comic-Con, but probably the best thing is those are dollars that we use back for neighborhood services."
Those services, he said, include keeping libraries open for longer hours, paving roads and paying police officer and firefighters.
Faulconer said he will be meeting with stakeholders and city council members to create a financing plan that could go before voters.
"So we have the ability coming up in 2016 to put together a plan that has visitors pay for the expanded convention center and San Diegans get the benefit of that,” the mayor said.
Funds would come from a hike in hotel room taxes, with additional funding from the city and Port District, but the tax raise would have to be approved by two-thirds of San Diego voters.
For its economic impact analysis, CSL surveyed more than 200 current, past and future convention center customers to ask for their input on contiguous versus campus space.
More preferred the contiguous option. Large event planners did not consider two buildings separated by three or more blocks to be a “walkable campus alternative,” according to the report.
One benefit of a campus option, stakeholders said, would be the chance to build it in conjunction with a new Chargers stadium.
But Faulconer’s support of the contiguous expansion “means that the mayor doesn't want to do that,” said the Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis. “Finally, that's another nail in that coffin. And so that means that that idea, unless the mayor loses again, is pretty much off the table.”
The contiguous plan is being challenged by a lawsuit from attorney Cory Briggs, who believes adding to the existing convention center would illegally block San Diego’s Bayfront. Lewis said the lawsuit may take at least three years to be resolved.
The convention center expansion was approved by the California Coastal Commission in 2013.