San Diego tourism applauds mayor’s Convention Center expansion plans
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego tourism leaders Friday applauded Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s new plan to expand the convention center but didn’t express concerns over raising the hotel room tax to pay for the project.
The expansion has been on the drawing board for over five years but was stalled by litigation over the proposed funding mechanism, which would have charged hotel property owners on a sliding scale based on distance from the facility. Plaintiffs in the court action argued that the financing plan amounted to imposing a tax without a public vote.
In his "State of the City” address Thursday, Faulconer said he would submit a ballot measure to the City Council that would raise the hotel room tax rate by a so-far unspecified amount to pay for expansion. Proceeds from the higher tax and higher revenues from the bigger convention center could also be used to fund road repair and programs for the homeless, according to the mayor.
San Diego tourism officials said expansion of the convention center on its existing site "is a vital step” in not only retaining existing clients, such as Comic-Con International, but also in securing new business and greater economic impact for the area.
"This last fiscal year, events in our facility generated $1.1 billion in regional impact and $23.9 million in hotel and sales tax revenue into the city of San Diego’s general fund,” said Clifford "Rip” Rippetoe, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corp. "That tax revenue has funded the paving of our community streets, helped build libraries and parks, and paid our firefighters and police officers, and an expanded center will allow us to accomplish even more for the betterment of our city.”
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Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, said clients have told them for years that an expanded convention center is needed to meet the demand and stay competitive in the marketplace.
"Our city is also facing major infrastructure challenges and a crisis in homelessness,” Terzi said. "The economic impact of expanded convention center will not only benefit the tourism community — it will also provide revenue to do what’s right for all San Diegans and fund programs to address these crucial issues.”
The ballot measure would be subject to a public vote before the hotel room tax hike is implemented. San Diegans rejected a pair of local propositions last November that would have increased the levy — one to partially fund construction of a downtown football stadium and the other to address a variety of tourism and environmental concerns.
Not only did neither receive the two-thirds necessary for passage, but they didn’t even earn a simple majority.
The plan also faces a challenge in that part of the larger center was going to go on land no longer controlled by the city. The company that holds a ground lease for the land, Fifth Avenue Landing, has been pursuing a hotel project with the Port of San Diego.