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Five months and two delays might not be enough for the city of San Diego to gain control over the land it needs to expand its Convention Center.

The $14.5 million lease deal between the San Diego Convention Center Corp. and a private developer is scheduled to go before the Unified Port of San Diego for the third time next Tuesday.

The port district needs to sign off on the package because it controls the public tidelands around San Diego Bay. The district previously postponed votes on the deal in December and earlier this month.

Securing the land is the current hurdle the city faces. City officials are waiting to acquire the land before they publicly discuss plans for financing the project, which could cost up to $1 billion.

Port Commissioner Lee Burdick said all parties were “very, very close” and added she was optimistic the deal would be finished by Tuesday. But Burdick said negotiations were in worse shape than they were last week.

“If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said this was a done deal,” she said.

There’s no doubt the deal is complicated. The fate of the hotel, the port district’s rent and new lease terms have all been part of negotiations.

Fifth Avenue Landing, which is owned by marine contractor Ray Carpenter and boat tour operator Art Engel, signed a 40-year lease with the port district for the land in 1984 when the area was industrial. Since then, the bay front has become home to the Convention Center and two high-end hotels.

Carpenter and Engel have been talking about building their own hotel on the property for 11 years, but agreed to sell their lease when the Convention Center Corp., a city-run nonprofit, came calling two years ago. Their subsequent deal requires the corporation to pay Carpenter and Engel $14.5 million for control of the property. The corporation can back out if the center isn’t expanded.

Burdick declined to discuss the deal’s current snag, but said the port district and Convention Center have agreed to pursue building a hotel on the property. Asked if the holdup was related to the hotel’s fate if the city failed to expand the Convention Center, Burdick replied, “I cannot confirm or deny that that’s one of the issues that are left to be ironed out.”

“Make whatever inference you will out of what I just said,” she added.

Bob Nelson, chair of the Convention Center’s board, said he had no reason to believe the lease transfer wouldn’t be completed by Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of chips on the table and we’re really close to a deal,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to say anything that pulls the felt off the table.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the length of Fifth Avenue Landing’s lease with the port district. We regret the error.


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