Campaign underway to get voter approval for mayor’s proposal to expand Convention Center

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The campaign to get voter approval for the mayor’s ballot measure to expand the Convention Center got underway Monday. It was also an "information only" item at city council.

The mayor is proposing to raise the Transit Occupancy Tax, or TOT, to finance the expansion. The tax is paid by visitors to the city.

For more than a decade, the lodging industry has been pushing for expansion for two reasons: More space and more revenue to themselves and to the city.

The campaign will be largely funded by a tourism coalition, which includes the Lodging Industry. The purpose is to drive the tourism economy. The campaign got underway with a news conference at City Hall Plaza. The coalition said the highest and best use for raising and reinvesting the hotel tax is expansion.

"Expansion would achieve two goals: Attracting and retaining larger events that occupy the entire building, and booking mid-sized simultaneous events," said Mike McDowell of the Lodging Industry.

McDowell said the city is losing money.

"Recently over 145 thousand room nights representing approximately $4-million in tax has been lost because six former customers have outgrown the venue," he said.

If we don’t expand, the Hotel Motel Association said the industry will be in decline.

"Unless we continue to upgrade and modernize out Convention Center, there is a real possibility that these new hotels will struggle to be successful, and our current hotels will face declining occupancy rates," said Joe Eustice of the Hotel Motel Association.

The Tourism Authority said to be competitive, expansion is necessary. 

"When we take a look at the size of our facility, that places us at 22nd largest exhibit space in the country," said Kerri Verbeke Kapich, of the COO Authority.

Richard Rider of San Diego Tax Fighters admits the Convention Center produces significant revenue, but it could be doing more if it was run like a business.

"I also question when they they turned away conventions, really they couldn’t meet the specifications somebody else offered a better deal, that’s different than not being able to handle in the first place," Rider said.

He also questions the Christmas Tree approach to the ballot measure, which includes money for roads and the homeless.

"Oh, we’re gonna include roads. Oh, we’re gonna take care of the homeless. So everybody who has some issue they’re interested in can say they’re getting something out of it, but when everybody’s getting something out of it you have to wonder whether this makes sense in the first place or the level of taxation that’s included makes sense," Rider said. 

Categories: Local San Diego News