Meanwhile, with everything else going on in the world, you may have missed another pretty significant story for comic-con culture. Last Tuesday’s elections included a vote in San Diego on Measure C, a wide ranging proposal that would have, among other things, allowed a hotel room tax to fund a $850 million expension of the San Diego Convention Center. The meaure would also have raised $2 billion in bonds to help with San Diego’s homeless problem.
As of today, the measure failed – although it got 63.55% of the vote it needed a 67% super-majority to pass.
Salkowitz notes that in recent years, an expansion of the SDCC was seen as as huge boost to the local economy – and of course would have allowed the city’s largest event to get even bigger:
A 2018 report issued by the Convention Center estimated that Comic-Con alone contributed $147 million to the regional economy out of a total of $1.1 billion generated by all conventions, trade shows and community events. The second largest event, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, clocked in at 60.4 million.
As someone who has long reported on the con, and long ago claims that it brought in far less than professional gatherings, it’s nice to see this reality recognized.
Although CCI, the organization which puts on Comic-Con, and local mayoral candidates supported the measure – along with the Hyatt, the Hilton, the Marriott and the Padres – many were arrayed against Measure C:
At the same time, Measure C, which requires a 2/3 majority, has generated opposition from civic groups saying the proposals are too broad, the financial projections too optimistic, and the entire process too opaque and contrived. Opponents include the San Diego Republican Party, various anti-tax groups, and philanthropist Michael McConnell, who argues the proposal does not go far enough to address the homeless crisis. McConnell has spent at least $370,000 urging a No vote.
According to Weisberg and Warth, this may be the end of the trail for attempts to fund a convention center expansion (there’s still a very slim chance that when advance votes arecounted they may push the measure over the finish line but it’s very, very slim.)
A meeting of Measure C coalition members, including representatives from the tourism industry, business community and organized labor, could happen as early as Friday to discuss how to regroup. San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi on Wednesday was unwilling to disclose all the possible options under consideration but acknowledged there is no clear-cut strategy for potentially resurrecting the expansion project.
“No matter what we do, the way forward is not nearly as clear as what it was before,” said Terzi, who has long argued, as have others, that the bayfront center is losing out on many lucrative conventions that are going to rival cities with larger venues. “We’ll consult attorneys, talk to the (hotelier-run) Tourism Marketing District, the industry and the committee. We planned for getting a two-thirds majority and didn’t have a Plan B, so the (campaign) committee will sit down for a few minutes and think about what our next steps are, if any.”
One other dim hope: a court might overthrow the idea that a supermajority is necessary to pass the measure. California courts have been mixed in decisions on the topic in the past, however, and just who would pay for the court battle is unclear.
A measure to fund the expansion was actually approved by hoteliers all the way back in 2012, but courts ruled that it needed to be put to the public to vote on. After more machinations than I have time to write or you have patience to read, this vote was finally held this week, and although a clear majority supported the idea…it was not a super majority.
While Comic-Con would be the #1 beneficiary of the long wished for expansion, it would help the facility draw other large shows. Still, having more room to put on the granddaddy of comic-cons would have been spectacular. With no more room to expend, CCI has to look to other ways to raise money, and off-sites can only beguile so many attendees.
And with this measure seemingly dead in the water, the actual real estate where the expension would have gone may soon be put to another use, Weisberg and Warth report:
Still an open question as Measure C backers await a final, official verdict on the vote count is the fate of the bayfront site where the convention center expansion would have been built. Longtime port tenants Ray Carpenter and Art Engel, who currently control what is known as the Fifth Avenue Landing property, still have plans to build a $300 million hotel complex there, although they had consented a couple of years ago to back away from their project and turn over their leasehold in return for a multi-million-dollar payment should voters approve the hotel tax increase.
The project could come before San Diego port commissioners in May or early summer, Port of San Diego spokeswoman Brianne Page said Wednesday. Carpenter and Engel, she said, have submitted the information required by the port and its staff is currently reviewing that.
I didn’t mean to dump another sinking feeling on you, but it looks like the San Diego convention center is going to stay the way it is for the forseeable future and SDCC will remain the crowded shangri-la its been for the last decade.