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Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 | As part of the case to expand San Diego’s Convention Center, Convention Center Corp. officials distributed a list of 28 organizations that required a bigger center to do business with the city.
But, when informed of their appearance on the list, the two largest organizations said they shouldn’t be included. Convention managers at both the Radiological Society of North America and the National Association of Music Merchandisers said their organization’s annual meetings are unlikely to come to San Diego even after an expansion because of size or other concerns.
The two conventions’ combined projected economic impact represents almost 14 percent of the $2.7 billion in economic impact the Convention Center Corp. reported could be lost if the city did not expand the Convention Center. Loss of business is the central argument behind the need to spend between $750 million to $1 billion to expand the center.
The document, prepared March 6 by the corporation for the Convention Center task force and titled “Clients Requiring San Diego Convention Center Expansion,” divided the 28 organizations into four categories. Both the Illinois-based Radiological Society and Carlsbad-based Music Merchandisers Association are listed in the fourth category, “Events that have never booked San Diego because of their size, and can only consider us if we expand.”
“That’s inaccurate,” said Steve Drew, an assistant executive director at the Radiological Society. “If those are the parameters, we shouldn’t even be on this list.”
The Radiological Society’s annual conference, held for the last 20 years in Chicago, requires more than 2 million square feet of exhibition space. Originally, San Diego’s Convention Center was considering an expansion from 615,000 square feet to 1.1 million square feet. Under the plan approved by the Convention Center task force Monday night an expanded Convention Center would have about 800,000 square feet.
The Music Merchandisers Association holds two shows, a large one in Anaheim and a smaller one in Nashville. Kevin Johnstone, the director of trade shows for the association, said his organization had “no intention” of moving either show.
“We’re perturbed,” Johnstone said. “It’s misrepresenting our intentions.”
In response to questions from voiceofsandiego.org, Convention Center Corp. officials acknowledged the list no longer reflected current information. Also, instead of as a definitive statement, they maintain the list should be considered a snapshot of the type of business the center could lose if it didn’t expand or could target if it did.
But Convention Center Corp. CEO Carol Wallace referred to the document last month during an interview for a Q&A on the Convention Center expansion. She described each of the four categories in detail in response to a question about why the city needed the project and how it would pay off.
In that interview, Wallace made strong comments about the fourth category on the list, where both organizations appear:
But again the fourth category are those that have never been here, that have us on their radar screen, they want to come to San Diego. These are the ones we touch and have our hands on, people we’re in constant communication with. We can say, truly, if you build it they’ll come. And not once, but on a rotational pattern.
After that interview, voiceofsandiego.org attempted to contact organizations on the list — including all of those in the fourth category — for their opinions on San Diego’s potential expansion. Of those organizations that responded, the majority said they could consider San Diego if the center expanded. However, officials of the two conventions with the largest estimated economic impact took issue with their inclusion.
Asked this week why she provided the document during last month’s Q&A, Wallace replied she wanted give a sense for the pro-expansion arguments the task force had seen. Had she known the organizations would be contacted, Wallace said, she would have revisited the list.
“I did not say these were current numbers,” Wallace said. “You did not ask, ‘Were these current numbers.’ What I was said is that I was trying to explain to you the four categories of events or business that would need the expansion. I handed you the document that we had been using all along.”
She said she plans now to revise the document to subtract organizations that no longer fit the parameters or add new ones that have expressed interest in the expanded center.
Issues raised by both the Radiological Society and the Music Merchandisers Association go beyond an extra 200,000 square feet of exhibition space.
The Radiological Society’s show is nearly double the size of San Diego’s Convention Center at the expansion proposal’s peak so it could never fit. The economic impact, listed at $235.6 million, is “the biggest number I’ve ever seen,” said Drew, the society’s assistant executive director.
In response, Andy Mikschl, the Convention Center Corp.’s senior vice president of sales, said the society told San Diego’s Convention Center in recent conversations that it was on the society’s radar should an expansion occur. But Mikschl added the possibility was remote.
“Very likely, based on the fact that they need substantially more than that, we would still not be able to accommodate their show as it is today,” Mikschl said.
Regarding the show’s economic impact, Mikschl said San Diego uses standard industry formulas to determine that figure.
Johnstone, of the Music Merchandisers Association, questioned the 35,000 attendance figure that’s listed for his organization. Its large show in Anaheim averages 85,000 and its small Nashville show 15,000 to 18,000, he said. Johnstone had separate concerns about how San Diego’s center handles its cleaning services. Besides, Johnstone said, he hadn’t spoken to anyone with the Convention Center in years.
“We were just surprised and disappointed that our show would be on a list of shows that would move to San Diego if it expands,” Johnstone said. “While it is not out of the realm of possibility at some time in the long future, it’s not even on our radar at the moment.”
It’s true that the Music Merchandiser Association hadn’t been contacted in years, Mikschl said. But previous conversations with the association and the show’s location in Anaheim made it relevant for the list. Mikschl said the association would “probably not” leave Anaheim, but could look at an expanded San Diego as an alternative.
Convention Center Corp. officials said they would need until Friday to research where they determined the attendance figure for the association’s show.
This week, the Convention Center task force voted 15-1 to recommend the center expand should Mayor Jerry Sanders find a way to finance it. Officials hope an expanded center would open in 2014.
Wallace and Mikschl gave another reason why organizations might not want to speak strongly about their intentions that far in the future. The industry tends to be secretive about their plans for fear of upsetting host cities or conventioneers. It almost made them not want to include any organization on a list, but circumstances surrounding an expansion forced their hand.
“Knowing we’re going to be talking about expansion, there was no way we could say, we want to expand, yes, there are groups that want to come to San Diego, but we can’t tell you who they are,” Wallace said. “Nobody would buy that.”