San Diego

Special Election Sought for Tax Hike To Fund Convention Center Expansion

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has now filed a request with the City Council for a special election in November

Are San Diegans finally ready to hike the city's hotel tax to get a bigger convention center?

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has now filed a request with the City Council for a special election in November.

Three previous hotel tax hike measures failed to win the required voter majorities of two-thirds – a tough hurdle to clear.

And there are other big obstacles to expanding the Convention Center.

The project's pricetag has jumped from $520 million in 2013 to a high of $685 million, an average of nearly $4 million a month.

So the city's experts say it's essential to get a tax measure on the ballot "as soon as possible".

Tourism officials are concerned about the convention center's relatively small size keeping larger meetings and events from booking there.

They don't want to see "Comic-Con" pull up stakes for other cities with bigger venues.

As it is, city auditors have discovered that the center has an eight-year funding gap of $12.6 million for capital improvement needs.

Under the ballot measure, room taxes at hotels in the downtown area would go up 3 cents on the dollar, to 15 and a half percent.

An early timeline for the project sets a mid-2019 construction start, and completion by mid-2023.

The logistics in the meantime could complicate the convention center’s activities and experience for guests.

“There are a lot of people who’ve brought up that there could be significant economic costs to the disruption that the construction will require,” says Scott Lewis, editor of the Voice of San Diego.

“Are they really going to be able to host all these conventions while they make this expansion possible?”

A major stumbling block for the city right now is that the land needed for the project is leased by developers proposing a $300 million hotel on it.

Their lease with the Port District extends to 2024, and they’re challenging the expansion plans.

The money generated by the higher hotel taxes also would go to road repairs and homeless initiatives.

If the measure passes, $150 million dollars is projected for each of those causes over the next ten years.

But given the fate of three previous hotel tax hikes put before the voters, passage seems a tall order.

"A lot of things happening there. There's a two-thirds requirement. The land's not there. Small election,” Lewis said in an interview Thursday.

“If they pull it off it would be a feat of civic accomplishment I've never seen around here."

The special election would cost city taxpayers about $5 million.

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