Convention Center expansion could head to November ballot

Posted at 11:47 AM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 14:49:07-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Voters could be asked to decide this November whether to fund a waterfront expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, officials with Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office said Wednesday.

The plan, initially announced in the mayor's "State of the City" address, would raise San Diego's hotel room tax by up to 3 percent to raise the funds necessary to finance the project, now estimated to cost as much as $685 million. Excess funds would be dedicated to other road repair projects and homeless programs.

"Given the urgent need to address the homeless crisis and repair roads, as well as the economic benefits expanding the Convention Center will bring to San Diego, we believe putting this on a ballot as soon as possible is in the best interest of the city," Matt Awbrey, Faulconer's spokesman, told City News Service.

Civic boosters have pushed an expansion of the center for years now because the largest trade shows are bypassing San Diego for cities with larger meeting facilities. Competing cities have also been trying to lure organizers of Comic-Con International, who contend they need a larger space for their annual celebration of the popular arts.

The so-called "contiguous" expansion plan at the waterfront site has already been approved by the City Council and California Coastal Commission, but has been held up by lawsuits. A January court ruling that favored the city gave Faulconer an opportunity to revive the project.

The hotel room tax is currently 10.5 percent, with an additional 2 percent fee that funds tourism promotions. The top rate, for hotels closest to the Convention Center, would become 15.5 percent under the plan.

Awbrey said a proposed ballot measure will go to the City Council's Rules Committee next month. The proposal would have to be placed on the ballot by the full council, which would also have to call and pay for a special election. Two-thirds of voters would have to approve the measure for it to pass because of the tax increase.

A special election could also open the door for an earlier public decision on a plan backed by a group of investors to build a hybrid soccer/college football facility, along with commercial development and housing, at the Qualcomm Stadium site.

The group, which has applied for a Major Soccer League expansion franchise, is collecting petition signatures for its plan. If enough valid names are submitted, the City Council would have to either approve the project or place it before voters.