Council Advances Convention Center Expansion Bid

Councilmembers Marti Emerald and David Alvarez cast the dissenting votes

The basic funding scheme for a $500 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center was approved by the City Council on a 6-2 vote Tuesday.

Aside from possible legal challenges downstream, the expansion project has a long way to go through the permit process before ground can be broken.

And there's a sense of urgency throughout the tourism industry.

Because the facility's big-ticket event, Comic-Con, needs a lot more elbow room.

Comic-Con is signed through 2015, but larger venues in Las Vegas and Anaheim are beckoning for its future business.

Expansion project boosters tout a yearly economic impact of $700 million -- $15 million in city General Fund proceeds -- and creation of 7,000 full-time jobs after 4,000 construction jobs.

The main financing approach is an assessment district, whereby 1, 2 or 3 cents per dollar is added to the room taxes of 224 hotels with more than 30 rooms -- generating a projected $35.7 million a year over 30 years.

Those located downtown would pay the 3 percent assessment.

Those farthest away from downtown, the extra penny per dollar.

But some of their owners say even that's too much, because they'd see scarce benefit in  occupancy rates.

Meantime, organized labor is raising concerns about a proposal that puts four hotel owners on the Convention Center's nine-member governing board.

"They have been very clear that they want to book the Convention Center differently," says Lorena Gonzalez, who heads the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

"They want to pull out some of that smaller business so they can make money off it," Gonzalez says.  "They want to pull out some of the food and beverage so they can profit off it.  And we think that's a conflict.  Anybody can see that's a conflict."

Other sources for covering the project's debt include annual infusions of $3.5 million in city room tax proceeds, and $3 million from the Port District.

And, with redevelopment funds 'off the table' now, backers are looking at surcharges on taxicabs, bars, restaurants and other businesses that benefit from conventioneer spending.

Councilmembers Marti Emerald and David Alvarez cast the dissenting votes, citing concerns about financial protections for taxpayers and the proposed new governance scheme for the Convention Center board.

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