Last night, I blogged my surprise that the draft report issued by the city’s Convention Center task force made so many mentions of University of Texas at San Antonio professor Heywood Sanders, a convention center critic, especially since the report recommends that San Diego’s Convention Center expand. Sanders’ arguments were mostly disparaged.

Just before I went home yesterday, I e-mailed the report to Sanders, who gave a presentation to the task force in May, to ask what he thought. We spoke today.

Sanders said the report “thoroughly mischaracterized” his positions. The report indicates Sanders concedes that San Diego doesn’t fit his research, which argues that convention center expansions don’t economically benefit cities as much as they expect.

An example is in the report’s executive summary:

The most vocal critic of publicly funded convention centers, Dr. Heywood

Sanders of the University of Texas at San Antonio, when asked by Taskforce members about SDCC’s relative performance against its competitors, characterized San Diego as a “conundrum,” because it did not fit his profile of failed or failing convention centers across the country.

As is later referenced in the report, and in the transcript of the presentation he gave to the task force, Sanders said his “conundrum” was not that San Diego’s experience didn’t fit his profile. Instead, Sanders was puzzled that convention attendance figures didn’t seem to correlate with statistics on hotel room nights generated by those conventions. Sanders told me today he was unsure of the data Convention Center officials had provided him.

“It doesn’t mean something’s wrong,” he said. “It means I can’t assess it very well because I’m not entirely comfortable with what’s presented and how.”

The report also attributes a list of eight reasons why there’s a demand for a San Diego Convention Center expansion to Sanders. That’s not his list, but one developed by a consultant from industry publication Tradeshow Week, as made clear later in the report.

I called Convention Center spokesman Steve Johnson and Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council and a member of the Convention Center task force subcommittee that drafted the report.

Johnson’s first response to Sanders?

“He’s a whack job,” Johnson said.

Johnson dismissed Sanders’ criticisms of his portrayal and the task force’s conclusions, saying Sanders had his chance to answer questions from the task force and chose not to.

“He can say what he needs to say and clearly from what they’ve drafted, the task force disagreed with him,” Johnson said.

Johnson did call the list of demand points attributed to Sanders “a typo” that would be fixed for the report’s final version.

When I spoke with Gonzalez, she wrote down Sanders’ concerns. She said she would address them on Monday at the task force’s meeting where it is scheduled to vote on the report.

“This is a draft report,” Gonzalez said. “The reason it’s put out there early is so we can take a look at these things and discuss them.”

The Reader’s Don Bauder talked to Sanders, too.


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