SD convention center expansion will be "studied"

19 MARCH 2015

                                                                   From U-T San Diego

It's all beginning to seem very Groundhogs Day-esque: the San Diego Convention Center expansion, which at one point seemed like a sure thing just months away from the swinging of hammers, is now back to the study stage. A $90,000 study, actually, to "analyze the pros and cons of alternative expansion scenarios." The last study was six years ago, which gives you an idea of how long this whole endeavor has been circulating.

If you haven't been following the story, it's this: after much dithering, an expansion of SDCC's convention center was approved; a local attorney, the Chargers, and a few other players put the kibosh on it by challenging the financing plan; now it's stagnated into frustration and uncertainty. Some objections from others have included 1) an expansion will block waterfront views 2) the money is better off spent expanding the nearby football stadium.

The main camps are the people who want a contiguous expansion (right there in/adjacent to the convention center) and people who prefer a non-contiguous expansion (additional space elsewhere, meaning convention attendees would have to move around the city a bit). One of the latter is JMI Realty, one of the study funders, who is currently espousing a plan where a new football stadium is built out with additional space, east of Petco Park. Yes, a developer who could benefit economically from the expansion is funding the study.

I feel safe predicting most SDCC attendees won't enjoy running literal blocks between panels (think of how long it takes just to cross the street, then add walking past Petco Park and then walking even further) but right now signs are pointing in that direction.

Consider this weak quote from board chairman Steve Cushman: "The mayor has said we need to be open to what others have proposed. A facility across the street, maybe our clients would like this. We don't know."

Oh, come on. No one who has gone to a convention of any kind has ever wished that they had to travel to multiple sites, rather than having the whole event in one place. But I don't think actual attendee preferences matter. Because we still have Cory Briggs in the mix, who is adamantly opposed to a contiguous expansion. Remember him? The guy who successfully led the fight to shoot down the financing plan? He's now working the "could impede access to the waterfront" angle. This guy does not give up.

At one time, the physical expansion of the center itself seemed locked in; now the winds seem to be blowing in another, more stadium-like direction. That would be disappointing but CCI doesn't seem to have much fight in it. David Glanzer previously said, "If it doesn't happen, we've been able to make do without it, and if we can mitigate the concerns we do have, we'll be able to stay here."

I doubt anyone who's lost out in a badge sale or felt overwhelmed in a crowded Exhibit Hall feels like this is "making do." But this is where we are, and once again, attendee voices are not a factor.

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