May 3 2016 06:41 PM

Convention industry benefits still fuzzy at best

A signature gatherer at ArtWalk
Photo by Ron Donoho

Five signature gatherers waved stacks of petitions at me while I strolled down India Street during last weekend's busy Mission Federal ArtWalk. The sky above was blue and sun dappled; the pitch from signature gatherers was gray and cloudy.

The latest slew of folks who want to be paid upward of $15 for your John Hancock are stalking registered voters who'll support the Citizen's Initiative. This is the November ballot-wannabe that calls for hiking up the local hotel tax to help pay for a new East Village football stadium for the San Diego Chargers, as well as a noncontiguous expansion to the downtown convention center.

I engaged with petitioners to see how they were selling the initiative. One commonality: It's a bid to pay for a stadium for San Diegans on the backs of tourists who'll incur the 4-percent hotel tax increase.

So if I'm visiting San Diego, I'm paying for this stadium?

"Yup. But if you don't live here you canít vote on it," was the nodding reply to my question from a guy in a Chargers visor. (No, it wasn't coach Mike McCoy.)

There was no consensus among signature seekers, however, about a specific benefit to the local convention industry.

I asked one petition signature gatherer how conventioneers would get from the current convention center to the proposed annex a few blocks away.

"Don't worry," he said matter-of-factly. "They're going to connect the two with a gondola." It's possible this gentleman was confusing a long-floated proposal to connect downtown to Balboa Park by an aerial cable-car system. Could an aerial gondola system be incorporated into the estimated $1.8 billion "convadium" project? Chargers spokesman Fred Maas could not be reached for comment.

Hey, who knows? MANICA Architecture has presented the public with a rendering of a boat show being held on the playing field of a new East Village stadium. In that rendering a flotilla of sea crafts tower over a modest crowd of boat enthusiasts, all surrounded by empty stadium seats. (Wouldn't it be ironic if killer whales were sitting in the pretend stadium seats?)

Kansas City-based MANICA, which did not return phone calls from CityBeat, is the same firm that designed the Chargers stadium for a forgotten time when the team was intent on moving to Carson. Go to and compare designs. Check out the renderings for both projects that include daytime fireworks—seemingly a must-have in today's NFL.

If you go to to look at the "New Stadium" section to get a feel for the convention-related specs, note the disclaimer about the project renderings: "This is a conceptual design intended to convey the Chargers' vision for what the stadium and convention center expansion could look like."

This we think we do know for sure, according to the Citizen's Initiative: The convention center expansion will be 385,000 square feet in net floor area of exhibition halls, ballrooms and meeting rooms.

Without that convention center expansion, an ArtWalk signature gatherer solemnly informs me, "We'll lose Comic-Con."

Hells Bells! Really?

"We are constantly perplexed by our message being misinterpreted by others," says David Glanzer, chief communications and strategy officer for Comic-Con International. "We have said it before and will say it again, Comic-Con believes that a contiguous convention center expansion (one that is connected to the current facility) would be best for Comic-Con, and most beneficial for any large event San Diego might host in the future. A facility built across the street or blocks away is problematic for any number of reasons...It just doesn't seem to make sense to book two convention facilities blocks apart when other cities offer contiguous space."

Hmm. So could that mean we're not getting the gondola?


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