Convention Center Expansion Wins Coastal Commission Approval

Pending litigation challenging the financing plan could delay project

October 11, 2013

The $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center won unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission on Thursday, despite recommendations from its staff that it would harm access to San Diego Bay.

The approval stood as the last permitting requirement for the convention expansion project to move forward. Although the project's financing has been ruled legal, that ruling is under appeal and could delay the anticipated start of construction in late 2014. Supporters are hoping the expansion can be completed by 2018.

Upon completion, the expansion will include an additional 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, creating the largest contiguous exhibit hall on the west coast, an 80,000-square-foot ballroom, five-acre rooftop park and 500-room addition to the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. "The proposed project is a regionally-significant, environmentally-sustainable project that will benefit meeting planners, attendees and locals alike," backers said.

The expansion was deemed necessary in order to keep large conventions like Comic-Con, which attract millions of dollars in hotel tax revenues.

The commission hearing attracted a throng of supporters, including local elected officials and business and labor leader. A small group of opponents agreed with the commission's staff.

"I am thrilled with today's approval and want to thank everybody who has been supporting this project. Many of our clients who have been outgrowing the current facility will now be able to book well into the future," said Carol Wallace, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.

With the expansion now ready to move forward, questions linger about a competing project from the San Diego Chargers, which had opposed the city project and instead proposed incorporating convention facilities in a new stadium six blocks away in Downtown's East Village, the U-T San Diego reports. Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani remained unyielding following the vote. "The result is no surprise, given the influence of the powerful groups supporting the project," he said in a statement. "Still, it was disappointing to see the Coastal Commission ignore its own staff's recommendation, and now attention will turn to an appeals court ruling on the legally dubious tax that was invented to pay for all of this."