Monday, Aug. 31, 2009 | Just before the task force charged with deciding the fate of a potential $1 billion San Diego Convention Center expansion made its decision Monday night, task force member and hotelier Bill Evans gave the group a history lesson.

Remember, Evans said, a group in San Diego that had agreed on details of another expensive project. The group signed off on everything down to the color of signs. Everything, that is, except for financing. And therefore the Mission Bay Master Plan sat on a shelf.

The 16 task force members at Barrio Station Monday night, Evans said, shouldn’t “be guilty of the same thing.”

Evans then ticked off the roadblocks the Convention Center still faced: environmental approval, the bond market, the convention marketplace, City Council, and yes, financing.

Evans wrapped up his comments with an endorsement of the task force’s recommendation, one that tells Mayor Jerry Sanders to finalize the project’s scope, find the money and then expand the center.

To recommend anything more, task force members concluded, was beyond their charge. The task force voted 15-1 in favor of the recommendation with San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association President and CEO Lani Lutar voting no and with Diane Takvorian, executive director and co-founder of the Environmental Health Coalition, absent.

It is up to the mayor to break through the roadblocks that Evans and others detailed throughout the meeting.

After eight months of work, task force members listed many accomplishments that they believed would help Sanders understand what’s at stake in the project. They found a site contiguous with the current center, evaluated data on an expansion’s economic impact and identified ways to finance the project, such as increased hotel-room taxes or taxi and rental car surcharges, even if they didn’t agree on any.

“I believe we have presented the mayor and council with the statistical data they need to determine how to finance this project,” said Steve Cushman, the task force’s co-chairman and Port Commission chairman.

Even though the task force didn’t make any financing decisions, money talk consumed much of the two-hour meeting.

Task force member Vince Mudd said that financial constraints could further limit the size of the expansion below its current plans for adding about 200,000 square feet of exhibition space. Another member of the task force, Mike McDowell, proposed an alternate recommendation, essentially suggesting a resolution to the money question was needed before the expansion issue even should be addressed.

Lutar lined up behind McDowell’s proposal — he said that she had helped him craft it — but couldn’t support the final recommendation because of the unresolved money questions.

“I don’t see how anyone could support or oppose something without understanding the financing,” Lutar said.

She believed Evans’ comments on Mission Bay should have resulted in the opposite conclusion.

“I would have thought his next statement would have been, ‘Let’s not support a meaningless recommendation,’” she said.

Both Cushman and task force member Bob Nelson said the Convention Center expansion shouldn’t have the same fate as Mission Bay’s plan.

The task force’s recommendation, Cushman said, came with “an implicit agreement from (Sanders) that if we said yes, he will work aggressively to move this forward.”

Besides, Nelson said, an option on the land planned for the expansion expires in December. That doesn’t leave Sanders much time to let the task force’s report gather dust. Or leave remaining questions, about money and otherwise, for another day.

“The real challenge,” Nelson said, “begins tomorrow.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Steve Cushman as the port vice chairman. We regret the error.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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