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What’s the real probability of one big contiguous San Diego Convention Center expansion? Based on the precedents made by past promises and the lack of the city’s land rights ownership, an expansion attached to the current Convention Center isn’t likely at all, so why are some folks still talking about it?
David L. Malcolm is a businessman who’s played a major role by serving on boards involved in all three of the previous expansions of the Convention Center – at various times he’s been a chairman for the Port of San Diego, a member of the Chula Vista City Council and a commissioner on the California Coastal Commission. Malcom submitted a draft environmental impact report related to the contiguous expansions. In it, he said that he would never have voted for the past expansions if he had known how far the building would ultimately stretch.
“When I voted in 1995 for the expansion, Mayor [Susan] Golding and Port commissioners promised that the ‘walling off’ of the waterfront would be limited,” Malcom wrote in the report. “We also ‘chopped off’ the Southeast end of the expansion and promised open space and protection of the view corridors. I, and I’m sure others would never voted but for the promises made to the public.”
Later in the report, he said that at the time of the vote, most believed that future expansions would happen in a separate building across the street.
“During the review process at the board of Port commissioners in 1995, we discussed where should phase III of the of the convention center expansion occur,” he wrote. “At that time, the Port commission was told that future expansions would probably occur ‘across Harbor Drive over the top of the San Diego trolley station yard’. It was never contemplated to “wall-off” more of San Diego Bay from the public.”
In October 2013, the California Coastal Commission approved a contiguous expansion of the Convention Center despite its own staff recommendation against it because such an expansion would harm access to bay. It did so under a false premise that contiguous was the only way for expansion. This allowed the San Diego Convention Corporation and the Coastal Commission to go back on previously made promises to the public.
A look at the history of the Port board, the Coastal Commission and the Convention Center Corp. reveals a rotation of individuals who serve on boards that involve Convention Center politics. Steve Cushman and Bob Nelson have served on the Port board and the Convention Corp., and have been vocal supporters of a contiguous expansion. It’s with this continued exchange of power that the agenda of a contiguous expansion, and the myth for its need, is able to be advanced without the evidence to support it.
To date, no independent study has been produced that definitively concludes a contiguous expansion is the only way to go. The city’s own study last year concluded that there are several benefits to a campus-style, non-contiguous expansion.
There will always be a few eager to provide quotes that give the impression that a contiguous expansion is a necessity, but without an independent study to substantiate the absolute need, or the land to execute a contiguous expansion, those claims are nothing more than an opinion that has little chance of ever being realized.
Combining a multi-use stadium with a non-contiguous Convention Center expansion is the tangible vision available. It solves two major civic issues we have struggled with for years while proving the most return on our investment because the stadium portion of the project can be used hundreds of times a year, and not for just a few sporting events.
Cushman once touted the benefits of a downtown stadium, back when he thought he had won a contiguous expansion, at the exact site the Chargers have proposed for a convadium.
In June 2015, after the Convention Center Corporation defaulted on the land needed for a contiguous expansion, Cushman admitted that a contiguous expansion of the Convention Center might not be the best option or an expansion might not be merited at all since all funding was lost.
Following that revelation, Mayor Kevin Faulconer started to more seriously consider the benefits of a campus-style expansion.
Then in August, Cushman flip-flopped again when the mayor promised to bring a ballot measure forward to raise the hotel tax to pay for a smaller contiguous expansion. He said his customers wanted him to keep pushing for a contiguous expansion.
Now that the Chargers initiative proposes to combine the non-contiguous expansion with a stadium, the hoteliers and politicians are arguing that a tax hike would kill tourism. Hoteliers don’t want to share their facility with the Chargers, and they don’t want the competition that would come with a new hotel that’s been proposed to go alongside the convadium.
Enough is enough.
The convadium is the solution on the table that solves both the stadium and Convention Center dilemmas that have plagued San Diego for years. It’s time we embrace the solution we have and allow San Diego to step into the future with a facility that will enable us to compete with other major cities for tourist dollars.
Dan McLellan is the former Chargers beat writer for CBS Sports. McLellan’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.