Mayor Steers Convention Center Expansion - NBC 7 San Diego

Mayor Steers Convention Center Expansion

$550-million project is "ready to go"



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    Another expansion of the San Diego Convention Center will be orchestrated from the 11th floor at City Hall -- the office of the Mayor.

    The current occupant is backing a financial plan under which hotel guests bankroll the project. On Monday afternoon, the City Council voted unanimously to hand Mayor Jerry Sanders the job of building the proposed $550 million dollar enlargement of the convention center, last expanded 10 years ago.

    Without it, the facility could be passed over for a lot of large-scale businesses, such as Comic-Con.

    "It's designed; it's ready to go. We're ready to put shovels in the ground," says Darren Pudgil, the mayor's chief spokesman. "We just need to identify the rest of the funding source to make that happen."

    Sanders' assumption of direct responsibility for the project was approved by Convention Center Corporation officials last month.

    He's inheriting nearly $2 million in agency contracts for design, engineering and other services to get the job done.

    The financing plan calls for hotels to add a surcharge of up to 3 percent to their guests' room-tax bills to pay off construction bonds.

    Public safety advocates suggest some of the proceeds might go to the city's General Fund to cover the extra costs of police officers, firefighters and resources committed to downtown duties.

    "We really would like the conversation to have a component of public safety, for fire and police," says Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn. "The main thing I really want to focus on is that there are a disproportionate amount of public safety services in the downtown area, as opposed to other parts of San Diego."

    The mayor's project manager says sales and hotel taxes on all the new business generated by the expansion will add $15 million a year to the General Fund.

    "Those monies will be available to fill potholes, for police services, fire stations and libraries," says Charles Black, who will report to Jay Goldstone, the mayor's chief operating officer. "All the things that are important to San Diegans -- and resonate with San Diegans."

    Black says the venture will have a total economic impact of $700 million annually, citywide.

    "Plus, at this time of pretty high unemployment in San Diego and California, it creates nearly 7,000 jobs," Black adds. "So it is a huge rainmaker. It has benefits in many, many different facets. And it pays for itself."

    Project backers hope it can be finished in time for Comi-Con 2015, the event's final contract year with the center, and help the center hold on to that gathering well into the future.

    They're also talking about "synergy" with a new stadium nearby -- if and when there's money for that, as part of a sports and entertainment district.