San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders held a news conference this morning to let the public know that the San Diego Convention Center Corp. is on the verge of purchasing the rights to lease 16 acres of land, which would allow the city to move forward on plans for a convention center expansion.

Accompanying the announcement was a clear message from Sanders and the other officials: Go along with a convention center expansion — which would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars — or lose the Comic-Con convention and a host of other high-profile conventions.

And to make sure their message was lost on no one, they brought along Comic-Con marketing director David Glanzer.

“I can’t imagine how we could stay here if they didn’t expand the center,” Glazer said of the annual get-together of more than 100,000 that has become San Diego’s signature convention.

On Friday, the convention center’s board of directors will consider paying $1 million to Fifth Avenue Landing LLC, which currently leases the land from the Port of San Diego, for exclusive rights on the lease. The $1 million would buy the convention center one year to decide whether to buy out the lease, which officials estimate would cost $13.5 million.

“I am hopeful that our convention center board will vote on Friday to move forward with the purchase agreement — an important first step toward expanding this important facility,” Sanders said today.

The board wants to increase the center’s size by 300,000 square feet by 2014. Such expansion is necessary, officials say, if the center wants to continue attracting large conventions. Beyond Comic-Con, the center risks losing at least 15 other conventions, including: American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; American Association of Retired Persons and Biotechnology Industry Organization, officials said.

Sanders said the public would have input on all aspects of the project, including its scope, how much it will cost and how it will be financed. Financing will likely involve borrowing against convention center revenues.

The city reaped more than $30 million in tax revenues from the center this past fiscal year, Sanders said.


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