July 20 2016 12:45 AM

Major groups want more convention center space, not a stadium-anchored annex

San Diego Comic-Con's Hall H line
Photo by Chris Lee/Flickr

I'm going on the record with what might be a surprising opinion: A downtown NFL stadium would be super cool, and so would an expanded convention center. If you’re a progressive who just spit up a mouthful of coffee, or a Bolttramp-stamped Chargers devotee looking for a high five, read further to see why this is not high heresy from CityBeat.

A non-mixed-use stadium in East Village could be synergistic next to Petco Park. It might even boost or instill some civic pride. My vision of the deal that gets it done, though, includes hefty provisions for homelessness services and affordable housing in the nearby neighborhoods, including Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights. By the way, the ideal deal is fully funded by the Chargers and the NFL (the movement starts here). You want a place for your employees to work? You pay for the facility.

The deal that gets my vote on a downtown stadium does not include raising the city’s hotel tax—by 20 to 25 percent in one fell swoop—to pay for it. Any tax paid by a tourist for a hotel stay is not found money. It belongs to city taxpayers via the general fund and would be better spent on an economic pump primer like a bigger convention center.

Two city initiatives helping weigh down the ballot in November call for bumping up the hotel tax. I don’t believe in the Chargers Initiative (which calls for creation of a mixed-use, mash-up of a stadium and a noncontiguous convention center expansion) or the multi-pronged Citizens’ Plan (which excludes the construction of a contiguous convention center expansion).

Much of the Citizens’ Plan does make sense—including no public subsidy for a stadium—it just overreaches with calling for a contiguous expansion ban.

Whether or not you believe wealthy hotel owners have formed a cabal and are walking lockstep in a secret deal to get an expansion on the bayside of the convention center, know this: contiguous is the preferred industry standard. The major convention groups who can take their business to any city with large enough exhibition halls—including the American Public Transportation Association and the Water Environment Federation—have indicated as much.

And then there’s Comic-Con. This colorful collection of superheroes, nerds and fanboys—all 130,000 of them—arrive this week. Although attendees range from frugal spenders to fuggetaboutit corporate expense account holders, as a group they’ll unload upwards of $80 million in direct spending.

Comic-Con organizers have maintained for years that they’ve outgrown the convention center and need more adjacent space. And this doesn’t just boil down to jokes about Twinkie-stuffed geeks not feeling motivated to walk from the halls of the convention center to a proposed site in a “convadium” that’s several blocks away.

“We view an expansion to mean any addition to the current facility,” said Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer. “Anything else really is a new separate facility. A separate convention facility built across the street or blocks away would pose any number of challenges. First we would need to determine who of our retail exhibitors would remain in the current facility and who would be relegated to the distant facility. Additionally, in order to prevent ambush marketing or a rival event to take place we would need to secure rental of that new facility, which could be expensive.”

Convention center expansion in San Diego is an endeavor that has mistakenly become entangled with building a new football stadium. Contiguous expansion got bogged down in its own legal entanglement involving financing. That part needs to be worked out on its own, sooner than later.

Having dual initiatives on the ballot that address expansion is beyond confusing. Especially since it’s not conclusive now—and still may not be clear in November—whether passage of the Citizens’ Plan requires a two-thirds or a majority vote.

When we start this process all over again after both initiatives are defeated in the general election, let’s drop the smokescreen of the benefit of combining a stadium and a convention center annex. Unless…the billionaires who own the Chargers and run the NFL want to finance a new East Village stadium and pay for a contiguous convention center expansion—where annexed stadium seating could be set up and sold for TV viewing on football Sundays.


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