The San Diego Chargers want a combined stadium/convention center downtown. But the mayor doesn’t. And the county doesn’t. And the convention center doesn’t. Which should make for an amusing few months.
Having lost the great race for a deal in Los Angeles, the Chargers have now floated a plan for a combined stadium/convention center in downtown San Diego, just east of the Padres‘ Petco Park. The “convedium” scheme would stack the stadium on top of a 225,000-square-foot convention exhibit hall, with meeting space and ballrooms in a connected building. City officials and local hoteliers have long been pushing for an expansion of the existing convention center, and they’re armed with a study by our friends at Conventions, Sports & Leisure International that says a separate new center won’t boost local convention business the way a contiguous expansion would — a difference of exactly six conventions and trade shows a year.
The earlier expansion plan was blocked by the courts, ruling a scheme that used a fee on local hotels was really a tax, and that required a public vote. Now the Chargers have joined attorney Cory Briggs (who brought the suit that stopped the expansion effort) to back an initiative to change the way the city’s hotel tax is distributed.
It appears the public financing for the stadium/center combine would come from a hotel tax, and that will undoubtedly require a public vote (maybe a two-thirds majority vote) in spending-limit-heaven California. But while Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other local officials (and the hotel folks) will likely oppose it, the combination deal has lots of friends. The Chargers get to argue that a combined stadium and convention facility will bring more conventioneers to sunny San Diego. They’ve got Fred Maas, former downtown honcho and center expansion promoter, on board. John Moores, who did the deal that built Petco Park, will get a boost for his surrounding property. And the hotel types will get something, even if it’s not what they prefer.
Yet one big question mark is Comic-Con, the event that (according to the convention center) drew 130,000 attendees last year, fully 24 percent of total convention attendance. The Comic-Con folks want a contiguous expansion, not the Chargers deal. And Los Angeles and Anaheim have both tried to lure the event, which is facing increasing competition from a host of “Cons” around the country. Will San Diego lose the hordes of costumed superheroes? Will Spiderman spin a big web for a convention center?
Does it all make sense? No, but this is “Field of Schemes” after all.