Statement: “Well, they doubled the size of the convention center in Las Vegas … and they’re doing the same exact business as they were before they doubled it,” former City Attorney Mike Aguirre said in an Oct. 23 Q-and-A with CityBeat.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Most current and former city officials rallied around plans to expand the San Diego Convention Center but former City Attorney Mike Aguirre has yet to be persuaded it’s the best approach.

As he campaigned for mayor, Aguirre argued the city should spend more time analyzing whether the expansion will make financial sense and offered at least one cautionary tale.

He claimed in an interview with CityBeat that a project that doubled the size of Las Vegas’ convention center didn’t lead to increased business there.

I decided to look into Aguirre’s statement because the city, Port of San Diego and hotel visitors will invest millions into the our city’s project over the next 30 years and seeing how that expense played out elsewhere could be eye-opening.

The Las Vegas Convention Center’s last major expansion was in 2002, when the city debuted 1.3 million square feet of new meeting and event space plus increased food options to what was then a 1.9 million square foot facility.

The city has since announced plans to upgrade the convention center again.

In the decade before the 2002 expansion, the center hosted an average of about 1.1 million visitors and 52 events annually, according to numbers released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Those numbers temporarily spiked from 2004 to 2008, when the facility hosted at least 67 events and 1.48 million visitors each year.

The increase didn’t last long.  The number of yearly visitors and conventions fell considerably in 2009, when a national recession hit the tourism industry hard.

Here’s a look at how the number of visitors has varied over the past 14 years.

The Las Vegas Convention Center hosted 1.27 million visitors in 2000 and just under 1.3 million in 2001.

By comparison, the facility hosted 1.28 million convention attendees in 2011 and 1.21 million in 2012.

Aguirre claimed that Las Vegas expanded its convention center and now sees the same business it did before the new additions.

That’s pretty accurate. The convention center attracted roughly the same number of visitors in 2011 and 2012 as it did in the years before the city added more convention space.

Yet convention bureau statistics also reveal the Las Vegas Convention Center saw a spike in attendance from 2004 through 2008, when the economy was booming.

As a result, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the expansion directly resulted in the increased convention visitors or whether Las Vegas’s convention facility will experience the same influx of visitors it saw in the mid-2000s as we emerge from the recession.

We label a statement mostly true when it’s correct but there’s a crucial nuance worth considering.

The ruling applies here. While the Las Vegas Convention Center has hosted roughly the same number of visitors in the past two years as it did in the years before the expansion, Aguirre’s statement fails to acknowledge the pre-recession boost in attendance.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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