LONG BEACH — Representatives of the city and the port this week kept alive a proposed expansion of the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center by agreeing to have their staffs meet to explore ways of financing the project, including the possible infusion of port money.
"I believe (it) might be worked out through cooperation," said Councilman Warren Harwood, who, as head of the council's Harbor Liaison Committee, chaired the Tuesday luncheon meeting attended by two councilmen, three harbor commissioners and others.
Louise DuVall, president of the Harbor Commission, said that while she is not yet convinced of the need for the expansion, she has an open mind. "I can be educated," she said.
Earlier, several commissioners had expressed strong opposition to underwriting any portion of the proposed convention center expansion. Although the harbor has an annual budget of $215 million, officials said, most of that money is already earmarked for the acquisition of land necessary to the port's own plans for expansion.
The convention center expansion--originally estimated to cost $59.5 million--has long been sought by local hoteliers, business people and members of the Greater Long Beach Convention and Visitors Council. They predict a significant glut of hotel rooms if the convention center is not enlarged to increase business from conventions and trade shows.
Recently the idea was endorsed by an ad hoc citizens' committee set up by the city. In addition to proposing ways to reduce the price tag, the committee recommended that the major cost be borne by the port, which, it said, stands to pick up business attracted by an expanded facility designed to act, among other things, as a Pacific Rim conference and exhibition center.
"We could become the eye of the needle for Pacific Rim trade," said George Matson, vice president and general manager of Facility Management Inc., which runs the city-owned convention center.
Added Bill Miller, president of the Greater Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Council: "We have a window of opportunity here."
Commission members, however, remained lukewarm to the idea.
"We're really hearing this for the first time," DuVall said. "We'd be glad to give any input we can, but it will take a lot of study."
Harwood, while admitting that the financial support of the port may constitute the city's last viable hope for convention center expansion, said he was encouraged by Tuesday's gathering. "The biggest barrier," he said afterward, "is when we're hanging ourselves up on fixed numbers (regarding cost). There's something we can afford to do and that's what we want to identify."