VOSD Members: Tough to Swallow Convention Center Expansion - Voice of San Diego

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VOSD Members: Tough to Swallow Convention Center Expansion

We polled our members about using tourist taxes to fund a
Convention Center expansion.

In May we found out that hotel guests will be asked to pay for much of the half-billion dollars needed to expand the city’s Convention Center. Increased hotel-room taxes will take care of $28 million to $30 million annually, or about three-quarters of what’s required to finance the expansion.

Hotel chain executive Mike McDowell told us last week that he thinks a Convention Center expansion is a good way to spend increased hotel-room taxes.

To discover what people besides McDowell were thinking, we asked our members (that is, those who have donated to support voiceofsandiego.org’s nonprofit journalism mission),

Is expanding the Convention Center the best use of an increase in hotel taxes?

If not, what would you prefer the money be spent on? 

Member Comments

Tom Gable called the Convention Center expansion “a huge boon to the San Diego economy” and Roy Evans called it a “no-brainer.” He wrote:

The last expansion which had the same/similar objections has brought in millions of dollars to the city. Another expansion is necessary to attract/retain the bigger conventions we currently are not able to host in the current facilities.

One common thought from supporters was that since this is money that would be paid out tourists’ pockets, and not San Diegans’, an increase in hotel bills is an easy “yes.”

Moreover, some wondered, are tourists and visitors even paying attention to the fees before choosing to come to the city?

“I was a meeting planner for years and never considered the hotel taxes as part of the decision — it was always the room rates,” wrote Anne Steinberger.

Mark Lewis thinks it’s only fair to raise the extra money: “San Diego needs to get payback for all of the taxes that San Diego travelers pay when we travel to other cities.”

Some “no” responses ignored the question about the tourist tax altogether and challenged the idea that the Convention Center needed to be expanded. To them, it’s just the latest round in an endless game of one-upmanship.

“There are only so many big conventions, and lots of cities are building big facilities to compete for them,” wrote Walter Konopka.

“It is not my impression that our convention center is presently hosting very many events that require a larger center,” remarked Peter Ellsworth.

Some argued that the beaches and other outdoor pleasures of the city deserve as much or more attention. “We would do better to play to our strengths and use the money to maintain our neglected parks and beaches. … It is our desirability as a destination, rather than our facilities, that brings conventions, as well as tourists, to fill our hotels,” Konopka added.

Marcie Rothman puts it more simply: If our city is falling apart, even a super-sized Convention Center won’t help.

“A solvent city is a city that woos conventions. A bigger convention center in a city with less than stellar basic services such as police, fire, libraries and parks (among other things), doesn’t pull conventions.”

Here are a few more of the comments we received:

YES

April Boling:

An investment in the Convention Center will result in increased income to the city for years to come. Of all of the “legacy” projects in the hopper, this one makes the most sense.

John Chalker:

I think this is one of the more equitable taxes that I’ve seen in a long time. The hotel industry benefits from the convention business and they collect the taxes from mostly non residents who stay in the hotels, although many of the hotel stays are not related to conventions.

How such a logical and objective approach emerged from a political discussion is amazing. Embrace it!

Pamela Engebretson:

This is the ideal relationship between a fee and a benefit. I do not believe this is a tax; the integral relationship between the hotel/visitor industry and the Convention Center is indisputable. While it may be argued that the Convention Center revenues benefit the region (read taxpayers) as a whole, the first line beneficiaries in a very symbiotic relationship are the hotels who add the tax on visitors without having to be “blamed” for it.

Murtaza Baxamusa:

If it is a truly public facility from which the local community benefits.

Gil Cabrera:

Hotels and out-of-town folks are who benefit most from an expanded Convention Center and hence that should be where most of revenue to pay for it comes from. Ultimately, I think an expanded Convention Center is in the city’s interests and should be pursued.

Deanna Spehn:

A good investment that will reap additional revenue for the city.

Sharon Hilliard:

I like that the tax increase is directly related to the purpose being paid for by the people who will be using the facility.

NO

Peter Ellsworth:

I have not seen a clear expression of why we need this expansion. It is not my impression that our convention center is presently hosting very many events that require a larger center.

I am also concerned that if the hotels are asked for this additional tax, they will be unwilling to add to their tax for anything else. I just don’t think that this is the most essential thing facing us at this time.

Dale Peterson:

I believe that the city is past the point where select businesses are entitled to tax and spend civic revenues. If all the city’s structural finances were in order I could see having special districts for select taxation and earmarked spending. The tourism crowd in this city has fleeced San Diego via one-sided leases, preferential bonding and self-serving commissions.

The expansion of the convention center seems to be perpetual. Time for the ConVis crowd to make do with what they have.

Linda Canada:

If we levy a hotel tax on visitors, I think it should be allocated to items that preserve and maintain infrastructure. Regardless of the size of the Convention Center, San Diego will attract tourists. I don’t this is the right time to expand the Convention Center.

Kim Schoettle:

If our city is not safe, and our new showcase library is closed downtown due to lack of staffing, our parks are dirty, and San Diego loses its luster, we will not be able to draw tourists to our town for conventions anyway!

If you’d like to participate in our regular surveys, there’s an easy way to do that: become a supporting member of voiceofsandiego.org. If you are already a member and didn’t get the survey, contact Summer Polacek, summer.polacek@voiceofsandiego.org, and we’ll make sure you’re included in the future.

Comments quoted here may have been edited for style and spelling.

Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org: grant@voiceofsandiego.org or (619) 550-5666 or @grantbarrett on Twitter.

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