I can’t say this was unexpected, but here we go again: after the threat of endless legal battles, environmental group opposition, the lack of any real financing plan and perpetual local conflict, after spending $10 million in six years, the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center has been killed. KILLED.
One of the biggest ironies of the Convention Center expansion’s demise is that this path — the one that has taken six years, cost $10 million and ended in nothing — was considered the least risky. And yet, with one 7-0 vote Tuesday, the San Diego City Council abandoned the effort. The $520 million plan to expand the facility — the biggest construction project on the city’s docket — is now dead. It won’t have to fight off the last environmental litigation from attorney Cory Briggs, who engineered this collapse. It will not pass go.
The Convention Center expansion was a key in San Diego Comic-Con agreeing to stay in San Diego, and signing a multi-year contract to stay. The planned $520 million project was to have been funded by a hotel tax, but his aced many legal challenges, and opposition to the plan won out. Those in favor of the expansion said it would draw other big shows that the current Convention Center can’t handle, but I’m not sure huge trade shows themselves were a big enough growth area to justify the expense:
Councilman David Alvarez, who voted against the financing plan two years ago, said he was pleased that his colleagues decided against pursuing an appeal.
“We have a new opportunity to move forward with a better project, including a potential stadium site, and engage San Diegans in a citywide dialogue about how to build the best facility possible,” Alvarez said. “The people of San Diego should get a say on whether to fund a convention center expansion, and discuss the size, scope and location of the project that best serves the needs of our city.”
Stadium site? Yep, the other problem in downtown is getting a new stadium for the Chargers, and now the idea of a dual use stadium/convention center seems to be dancing in the heads of some—possibly in that big area on the other side of Petco Park. But that would also have to be paid for by someone. And probably not cosplayers.
Adding to all the confusion? The Convention Center itself is said to be badly in need of repair:
The move to pursue a naming rights deal is fueled by the center’s growing tab for repairs, most notably the need to replace the fabric structure of the upper level Sails Pavilion.
“The Sails Pavilion is 25 years old, and its useful life is 20 years, so it’s rotting and likely to fail anytime soon,” said center spokesman Steve Johnson.
In addition, the center no longer has the funds to maintain an operating reserve, a concern raised repeatedly by the city’s independent budget analyst. The center is largely self-supporting through the revenues it gets from leasing the bayfront facility, although it does receive an annual city subsidy of $3.4 million, $1.9 million of which goes to the Tourism Authority staffing for booking large conventions.
So now what?
As I’ve covered the convention center story for the last few years the Chargers dilemma has always been bubbling under the surface—Qualcomm Stadium (formerly Jack Murphy Stadium) was built in 1967 and it’s about what you would expect from that era, without any nostalgic value to keep it around. While I’m not an expert in the local politics surrounding this, I’d suspect getting a new stadium will become the new #1 dream project.
As for Comic-Con International, it’s current deal is to stay in San Diego throughout 2016. When the extension was originally signed in 2010, it was based on the planned expansion. IN the intervening four years, the big show seems to have taken many steps to deal with its constrained facilities. For a long time, the biggest problem facing the con was finding a way to increase revenue with ticket sales at a finite level. They seem to have found ways to grow with more sponsorships and spreading out to the nearby hotels.
I never got around to writing my SDCC 2014 final report, but it was obvious to me that things had been scaled back this year, some things internally, some things externally. I don’t think the expansion plan failing was unforeseen by anyone involved with Comic-Con. And like Mark Evanier, I can’t see San Diego not being in San Diego. 130,000 people it will be. Only so many people can go to the Super Bowl or the Oscars of the Westminster Dog Show. There can be endless crowds milling around the Gaslamp district, but even that seemed to lose a bit of luster what with the Zombie Walk hit and run. It’s likely that we’ve just reached the size that things are going to be for the foreseeable future.
In some ways, I’m glad to hear the expansion won’t go through. The outdoorsy area behind whe center added a nice natural seaside feeling, and as shown by this years Simpsons display and Gotham zipline, it can still be put to very good use.
In the meantime, perhaps that decaying roof is our new ticking time bomb.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.