SD Convention Center expansion goes back to drawing board

San Diego City Council decided Tuesday it won't appeal a court ruling that struck down the hotel tax devised to fund most of the planned $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.

That leaves the financing "up in the air," council President Todd Gloria told City News Service after the unanimous vote. "It means we're going to have to spend some time figuring out a way to pay for this project or find a new one."

In short, as Scott Lewis writes on Voice of San Diego, after six years and $10 million, the expansion plan is dead.

Seen as critical to keeping Comic-Con International in the city past 2016, the expansion was to be paid for in large part by a room surcharge that added another 1 cent to 3 cents per dollar to room taxes of 224 hotels, generating $35 million annually. Although it was approved two years ago by city council and hoteliers, several groups opposed the funding plan, arguing it amounted to privatizing San Diego's taxing authority. A Superior Court judge sided with the city in 2013, but on Aug. 1 a three-judge panel of California's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled the tax unconstitutional, saying such a plan must be put to a citywide vote.

The proposed expansion would have added 740,000 square feet of exhibit 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.

With an appeal to the state Supreme Court off the table, the city's options include putting the hotel tax in front of San Diego voters, or devising another funding plan. In either case, that means at least a two-year delay of the convention center expansion, pushing the opening to 2020 or beyond.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a supporter of the expansion project since his days on city council, indicated to City News Service that he remains open to all plans, including a non-contiguous convention center that would include a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers.

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