There was one big winner last week when the City Council signed off on creation of the hoteliers’ new kitty I’ve been focusing on for a few days.

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It’s an organization that had faced some controversy. As the city faced financial crisis, ConVis faced budget cuts. And now, with one fell swoop of the City Council’s big inky pen, its budget has nearly doubled.

This year, ConVis is receiving $8.8 million from the city of San Diego to promote the city as a destination and to get people to bring their events and groups to town.

But now that the hoteliers have secured approval to add 2 percent to the tax visitors pay on their stays in city hotel rooms, ConVis is preparing for a windfall of resources. The organization is guaranteed 50 percent of whatever the new levy generates. Most analysts estimate that the 2 percent add-on to the 10.5 percent tax will generate an extra $30 million next year.

Hoteliers and hoteliers alone get to decide how that is spent and they’re going to fund ConVis in a way they’ve always dreamed.

If the new levy does generate $30 million next year, ConVis will get $15 million — far more than the $8.8 million it got last year.

Mike McDowell is the vice president of the San Diego Lodging Industry Association and the architect behind creation of the tourism marketing district and its 2 percent fee. He said that the visitor industry had to get ConVis’ funding out of the city of San Diego’s hands as continued financial pressures mounted.

“By leaving ConVis with the city over the next couple of budget cycles, we would have left them with too much competition for the money and they would have been hammered,” McDowell said.

ConVis’ funding had remained stable for the last three city budget cycles. But it was always a good target. The lush offices ConVis used to have and some of the controversy over its leaders’ taste in food and beverage had left it vulnerable.

In 2003, for example, ConVis received $13.9 million from the city. Its staff has since dropped from 102 people to 62.

So rather than casting the new funding as a windfall, ConVis officials are claiming it’s just a correction to more normal times.

“We’re just getting back to where we were before the draconian cuts took place,” said Sal Giametta, the vice president of public affairs for ConVis. “The intent behind all of this was to create once and for all a stable funding source for marketing San Diego as a destination.”

ConVis also got a $16,000 grant from county Supervisor Ron Roberts’ own slush fund last year. This week, Roberts is asking his colleagues to let ConVis use the money to refurbish the organization’s parking lot at their new office building in Little Italy.

They are going to need more spaces for what is sure to be several new employees.


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