FalseStatement: The city of San Diego “Lost 1,000 conventions & events in last two years,” due to the lack of a San Diego Convention Center expansion, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted June 12.

Determination: False

Analysis: The future of the long-delayed waterfront expansion to the San Diego Convention Center almost brightened this week, but was ultimately delayed again when the San Diego City Council declined to set a special election for the mayor’s expansion plan.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer had been working to put a citywide hotel-tax increase before voters this November to pay for a convention center expansion supporters say is needed to meet demand and spur economic growth. The proposed tax hike would also pay for road repairs and homeless services.

Despite the City Council’s move to quash a special election, the same plan or a version of it could still go before voters in 2018. The fight to expand the Convention Center has been ongoing for years, so statements about the necessity and importance of an expansion are worth a closer look. Asking voters to greenlight a Convention Center expansion in 2017 is all but dead, but it’s a safe bet it will return, just as it did after previous attempts fell short.

An expansion to the center would surely allow more events to be held, and data exists showing some event planners find the current space too small to meet their needs, and that some events can’t be accommodated due to other event reservations. But just how many events have been lost to space and date constraints?


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“Lost 1,000 conventions & events in last two years,” said a tweet sent out from Faulconer’s Twitter account in the run-up to Monday’s special election vote. The claim was in a graphic that aimed to capture what’s been lost due to the city’s failure to expand the convention center.

Faulconer Tweet

The data point was sourced to a recent report by Chicago firm HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting. The report was commissioned by the San Diego Tourism Marketing District and cost $43,450, according to a consultant for the district, which uses hotel tax money to promote local tourism and events.

A look at the HVS report, though, immediately puts some big holes in the mayor’s claim.

First, the data appears to come from a chart showing lost events for the last four years.

Above that chart is a disclaimer that says some event planners reserved dates in multiple years knowing they would ultimately only book one. “Consequently, there is some double counting in the lost business data,” the report says.

HVS report Figure 18 chart on lost events

Below the chart is another disclaimer: “Over the past four years, the SDCC has lost an average of 527 events and 2.75 million room nights. These events are lost for a variety of reasons. Nearly 58% of them are lost due to date and space conflicts at the SDCC.”

So, on its face, events lost to date and space conflicts — something an expansion could ostensibly address — total only 58 percent of the events shown in the chart, and some of those results might be double-counted. Fifty-eight percent of the 1,171 events reportedly lost in 2015 and 2016 would be 679. That’s a lot less than 1,000.

A closer look at the source data also casts doubt on the mayor’s 1,000 events lost claim.

Voice of San Diego obtained lost booking data from both the San Diego Tourism Authority and San Diego Convention Center this week. The authority handles long-term bookings, those for events more than 18 months away, and the convention center reserves events less than 18 months away.

The Tourism Authority reported a total of 309 long-term bookings were lost in 2015 and 2016 to date and space issues. Data produced by the San Diego Convention Center shows 366 short-term bookings were lost due to date and space conflicts in the same two-year period.

Add them together and you get a total of 675 events lost in two years, almost the same number as the estimate from the HVS chart, and again not 1,000.

Elsewhere in the HVS study, annual event losses due to space and date issues are reported at 284. Some questions about that figure emailed to HVS’s managing director Thomas Hazinski this week have not been answered.

The mayor’s tweet seemed to imply the center expansion could recapture 500 events a year.

Yet recent projections by HVS and other consulting firms in previous years have estimated far fewer events will be gained from an expansion.

HVS estimated the center could recover at least 52 events lost per year – about one-tenth of what Faulconer suggested.

A $90,000 study by Minneapolis-based Convention, Sports & Leisure International in 2015 projected a waterfront expansion could attract an additional 28 events.

And a 2009 report by AECOM projected an expansion could add 50 events.

Voice of San Diego asked the mayor’s staff for evidence supporting the claim 1,000 events were lost in the last two years due to the failed expansion.

Faulconer’s deputy chief of staff, Matt Awbrey, said a lack of convention space “is central” to convention, job and revenue losses. He also appeared to acknowledge the error.

“Thanks for bringing this up. The information out there should have been clearer and will be moving forward,” Awbrey wrote in an email. “It remains significant that the study found the convention center lost out on 1,000 events in two years and the majority of those events were lost due to a lack of space. We did not have the room to compete for these events, and we still don’t.”

The mayor’s claim the city lost 1,000 events in the last two years for failing to expand the convention center is not accurate, and existing data shows the number is likely closer to 675 or 680. Further, an expansion is not expected to recapture all those lost events.

For all these reasons, we find the mayor’s claim is false.

    This article relates to: Convention Center, Fact Check, Kevin Faulconer, Politics

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    14 comments
    David Lundin
    David Lundin

    Great work.


    Keep the Hoteliers and Tourism lobby honest. They rarely let the facts get in the way of their narratives.


    San Diego does NOT need to subsidize minimum wage and part-time employment.

    sandiegosteven
    sandiegosteven subscribermember

    Excellent job deconstructing and explaining the numbers behind the claims Ashley. 


    Steve Yang
    Steve Yang

    Doesn't "time and space conflict" just mean the convention center was already booked? Even "675 to 680" makes absolutely no sense here unless you think the convention center really could have added hundreds of events over the past two years. That's like saying, "Because Scott Lewis lives in San Diego, he lost the opportunity to live in each of the 9999 (made-up number) other cities in the world due to time & space constraints."


    The same slide shows up to 50 new events each year if expansion is completed as proposed, so shouldn't that be the ceiling of "lost" opportunities?


    There's a big discrepancy between 1000 over 2 years and 50 per year. Maybe the tweet intended to say "100 over 2 years" and the extra 0 was inadvertent?

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    The impact of the convention center expansion is strongly related to the number of hotel rooms available. Saying that the city lost 2.75 million hotel nights is incredibly misleading. Did we have that many rooms vacant during the times the conventions would have been here? Aren't the convention center advocates double and triple counting hotel room use?  

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    It would be impossible to build a convention center large enough to avoid date and space conflicts. People holding conventions don't consult with each other to see if there is a date conflict with their peers. They pick desirable dates and look to see if the places they might like to go have space (convention, hotel, and otherwise). They check the costs. They may adjust their dates based on cost and availability, if they have flexibility. If you build a convention center large enough to avoid most or all date and space conflicts, you will have a massive convention center that is mostly empty most of the time. It's not cost effective. But if you (i.e. the Tourism Authority) convince the taxpayers to cover the cost, being cost-effective is irrelevant to you. It's other people's money (ours). 

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    I'm curious about the basis of the statistic that 27% of tourism revenue in SD comes from conventions [See big blue graphic]. I know many thousands of people visit San Diego for numerous other attractions than attending a convention.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Determination: False

    Exactly what we expect from a San Diego mayor. Whether Republican or Democrat, from Faulconer to as far back as I can remember (Frank Curran 1963-71), San Diego has been led by liars and thieves. The latest crop; Faulconer, Gloria, Filner, and Sanders can be counted as some of the most corrupt in modern history.

    Why do we continually elect ( or get stuck with in Gloria's case) mayors with a warped sense of the common good; who yearn only for higher office and the opportunity to sell out San Diegans for campaign contributions ?

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    What a shock! Convention Center expansion advocates misrepresenting bookings? Of course they do. Maybe you can quantify missed bookings, but pufferry and exaggeration will always be the default setting for proponents of legacy projects. The number $100,000,000 is always used to promote stadiums and Super Bowl economic benefits. It's an old game. The convention business has its ups and downs so making any kind of projection or estimate is difficult and should be taken with a grain of salt.

    John Porter
    John Porter subscriber

    The mayor is starting to look and act more and more like Trump.  Tweeting, lies, bully use of power.  Hopefully he doesn't end up like Trump will.- unemployed.  He doesn't have millions in investments as does Trump to fall back on.  He may even have to draw unemployment.

    mike johnson
    mike johnson subscriber

    I still wish that somebody would do the figures for the first expansions. Millions were spent by the city because they needed a larger area. I wonder how many larger convention were brought in. Plus how much a year does the city pay in building cost plus interest every year.

    BRYAN HERRING
    BRYAN HERRING

    Anaheim Convention Center is a major convention center in Anaheim, California.  The center has subsequently undergone six major expansions (1974, 1982, 1990, 1993, 1999–2000, 2016-2017). It is the largest exhibit facility on the West Coast.

    Why would they come to SAN DIEGO?

    Craig Nesbit
    Craig Nesbit

    Surely you can appreciate the differences between the two cities.