Court ruling could threaten San Diego Convention Center expansion plan

SAN DIEGO - Just a week after Comic-Con International, the city of San Diego's bid to keep the huge annual trade show in town was dealt a severe setback Friday when a state appellate court struck down the mechanism being used to fund a $520 million expansion of the convention center.

The justices ruled that a levy on hotel property owners that they themselves approved violates the state constitution and City Charter, which call for a public vote and a two-thirds majority for a special tax to take effect. The money raised by the levy was going to pay for most, but not all, of the construction costs.

City officials had contended the vote was only required by the people who own the land on which lodging facilities sit, since it only affects them.

"The convention center expansion is critically important for our regional economy," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "It would create thousands of good jobs and ensure that we continue to attract large conventions like Comic-Con. We will be working with the City Attorney's Office to review all options in moving forward."

About 130,000 people attended Comic-Con, which concluded Sunday. Organizers of the annual celebration of the popular convention have been courted by other cities in hopes of luring the show away to larger facilities.

The show filled the convention center and events were also held at nearby downtown hotels.

The addition of 740,000 square feet would give San Diego's convention center the largest amount of contiguous floor space on the West Coast. Tourism officials said having the floor space all together is a top priority for trade show planners.

However, the appellate ruling likely means the expansion won't be built anytime soon. Comic-Con is only committed to San Diego through 2016.

Appellate Justices Cynthia Aaron, Judith McConnell and Terry O'Rourke said they understood the city's desire to make the convention center bigger, but were duty bound to uphold the constitution and City Charter.

They returned the case to Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager, who issued an initial ruling upholding the funding plan.

Former mayor Jerry Sanders, now president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, call the appeals court's ruling "a great loss for our city."

"It is unfortunate that this project will now be delayed even further, increasing the strain on our city's ability to attract convention business that bolsters the economy and creates thousands of jobs for San Diegans," Sanders said.

He added that chamber officials were "hopeful that the city can work to put together a new plan that will meet the necessary legal requirements and allow the expansion project to move forward."

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