"That means it's like moving into a new house--the structure's done, but you still need drapes and some other finishing touches," Watkins explained.
As construction proceeds, local officials may feel confident enough to book major conventions for late 1989, Durbin said.
"The key is to be absolutely honest," he said. "We can tell planners we'd be happy to take their group on a tentative basis, but let them know a date in 1989 isn't a guaranteed thing."
If that caveat emptor warning does not frighten off prospective conventioneers, another factor that could hinder local attempts to lure large meetings in late 1989 is the fact that many major trade associations book their conventions on a three- to eight-year cycle.
"Even if we can see in 1988 that the center's going to open on time, it may be too late in terms of 1989," Durbin said. "Once you miss these big conventions, you have to wait for the next cycle. A year or two usually isn't enough lead time."
However, Liegler and Watkins argue that having the convention center host smaller consumer shows--home and garden shows, for example--during its early months offers certain advantages. One positive side effect, Watkins said, is that such shows are oriented to local residents and "will show San Diegans that this is their facility, not just something for out-of-towners."
The center's operators also regard those smaller shows as a shakedown period to prepare for the major conventions that will follow, Liegler said.