The last time the Gaylord deal died — it’s now on its third or fourth life, I can’t keep track — local labor leader Jerry Butkiewicz leveled a bold accusation. He claimed that Gaylord officials had the city of Chula Vista and the port for tens of millions of dollars more in subsidies to make the convention center and hotel a reality. The project is already scheduled to receive $308 million in aid from the two government agencies.

I pressed Butkiewicz yesterday for some substance behind that claim. After all, if it were true, it’d be a big deal. It’s one thing for guys like me to speculate that more money might have to be injected in this deal to make it a reality. It’s another thing for Butkiewicz, who’s been in on the discussions, to level the charge that Gaylord officials have actually requested more money.

So where did he get that?

Butkiewicz admitted he didn’t have any substance for that charge. He said the basis for his charge is in a May 13 column written by the U-T‘s Gerry Braun.

Specifically, Butkiewicz said this section in Braun’s column was what’s been sticking in his mind:

Gaylord and the port are engaged in tough negotiations over a long-term lease on the site. The port is offering the same terms it gives the rest of its hotels, but Gaylord has other ideas. Talks have had to be extended six months.

The column came after Gaylord had received stinging criticism from port commissioners for what appeared to be an attempt to quietly increase the proposed size of the convention center.

Here’s a quick synopsis from reporter Evan McLaughlin‘s post about the meeting, in which commissioners extended the port’s contract with Gaylord.

Beforehand, they blasted a portion of Gaylord’s presentation dealing with the planned expansion of convention center space from 400,000 square feet to 550,000 square feet.

Commissioners said they worried that the additional space, which would make it 25,000 feet larger than the San Diego Convention Center, would create unintended competition between the two facilities when the Gaylord project was only supposed to supplement the region’s visitor business.

So, back to Butkiewicz, what’s he trying to say with that?

“I’ve gone back and read the May 13 column Gerry Braun wrote and I think the community has been misled into believing that the issue with the port at this time was about the size of a ballroom at Gaylord’s facility. Really, it was about money — money Gaylord would have to pay the port to lease the land and money coming from the city of Chula Vista. They want more money,” Butkiewicz said.

But Braun’s column was all he would point to as evidence that Gaylord had asked for an increased subsidy.

Hopefully I’ll have a related column on this tonight.

SCOTT LEWIS

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