Mayor's Convention Center Expansion Plan Passes Hurdle

The City of San Diego’s plan to expand the Convention Center – in the works for years – has passed one hurdle: it has been ruled legally sound. 

Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil ruled Wednesday that the plan is compliant with the California Coastal Act and the California Environmental Quality Act. 

A convention center expansion would add a new exhibit space and meeting rooms designed to accommodate large conventions, like San Diego Comic-Con International.

The expansion would also include an elevated five-acre public park, improvements to an exisiting pier, and a public recreational viewpoint. It would replace loading docks with visitor-serving amenities. 

“Today’s strong ruling is tremendous news for San Diego’s economy and removes one of the biggest hurdles to expanding the convention center,” Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said in a statement. “This expansion is all about creating jobs and growing tourism as well as keeping and attracting large conventions like Comic-Con. I want to thank the City Attorney’s Office, the Port and the California Coastal Commission for their hard work in winning this important case.”

The plan was previously approved by the San Diego City Council and the Port Commission in 2012; it was approved unanimously by the Coastal Commission in 2013. 

However, the plan faces additional hurdles on its path to success. 

One big issue is the fact that there is no financing plan for the estimated $700 million construction project. In fact, the City doesn’t even have access to the land where it would go. To complicate things further, another company is planning to build a 500-room hotel in the exact same spot.

Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, who has also served as the chairman of the convention center, has said despite the many obstacles, the plan has broad public support.

“Whether it’s because people realize the convention center generates tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue a year to use for police services, roads and parks, or whether it’s just because they like to attend the auto show every year, the plan to expand has strong public support,” Nelson said.

One company has the lease plans to build a hotel in the exact same spot where the convention center would expand. Nelson said the city could negotiate a deal with that company or even take the land by eminent domain.

A study into the environmental impacts of the proposed hotel just began, and the hotel blueprint has not gained approval of the Coastal Commission.

Faulconer wants to raise the tax on hotel room rates to fund the expansion, after the previous financing plan was thrown out in court.

That could be the biggest hurdle because it would now require approval of two-thirds of voters, after a recent change in state law.

“The financing is a big deal. When you have to get two-thirds of the voters to agree on anything, it’s very, very difficult,” Nelson has said. “I’m not even sure that you could get two-thirds of voters to agree that today is Friday.”