San Diego Convention Center expansion approved

Despite objections by the San Diego Chargers and concerns about public access to the waterfront, the California Coastal Commission on Thursday unanimously approved the $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, viewed as critical to keeping Comic-Con International in the city.

While the blessing of the commission -- it's a state agency with regulatory oversight of land use and public access to the California coastal zone -- removes one major obstacle, U-T San Diego notes there remains pending litigation to the project's financing scheme, which calls for a hotel surcharge of 1 percent to 3 percent. Hoteliers have already agreed to the plan, and a judge has upheld the assessment as legal, but opponents have appealed the ruling, arguing the arrangement amounts to privatizing the city's taxing authority.

The expansion would add 740,000 square feet of convention space, a five-acre rooftop park, a waterfront promenade with retail shops and restaurants, and a second, 500-room tower to the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. The project is expected to break ground next year, with the expansion targeted for completion in 2018, but construction can't begin until all lawsuits are settled.

Los Angeles and Anaheim, California, with their larger venues, wooed Comic-Con organizers, who nevertheless in 2010 extended their lease at the San Diego Convention Center through 2015, with city officials and local businesses helping to ease the space crunch by making off-site facilities available for panels and events. That agreement was extended to 2016 just last year, but without the expansion, it's unlikely Comic-Con will remain past that date.

"We've outgrown the current convention center," the Los Angeles Times quotes Comic-Con's David Glanzer saying before Thursday's vote. "We struggle to stay here."

But San Diego isn't merely courting that event, which last year reportedly contributed more than $175 million (including $77.3 million in attendee spending on hotels, food and transportation): Because of space restrictions, the city has been losing out on other large conventions, particularly those for the medical industry.The potential economic impact doesn't end there, however. According to the Times, "the convention center expansion would create 7,000 permanent jobs and 3,000 construction jobs and bring $700 million a year to the economy and $13.5 million in additional tax revenue from new conventions."

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