San Diego Convention Center officials pushing for a $114-million expansion of the bayside hall say the addition would help the facility capture far more of the U.S. convention and trade show market and generate an additional $340 million annually for the local economy.
Officials with the San Diego Convention Center Corp., the nonprofit group that runs the center, base those beliefs on a recently released Convention Center expansion study prepared by CIC Research Inc., a San Diego marketing and economic research firm that focuses on tourism.
The study found that adding 250,000 square feet of floor space to the Convention Center--doubling the exhibit capacity--would directly or indirectly generate about 4,000 tourism-related jobs here and attract enough delegates to boost the Convention Center's impact on San Diego's economy--now at about $580 million annually--to more than $920 million.
Construction of the addition would last about three years.
Convention Center officials are waiting to meet with the San Diego Unified Port District and the city in order to discuss what form the expansion might take and how it would be funded. The Port District, which financed the existing $160-million center, is the landlord.
In October, the City Council voted unanimously to ask the Port District to consider the expansion. The city, which leases the facility from the port for $1 a year, empowers the nonprofit Convention Center corporation to operate the hall.
The expansion would qualify the Convention Center to capture an additional 13% of the market for conventions and trade shows that now book at much larger facilities, hall officials say. Also, the convention and trade show industries continue to grow, and an expanded center would allow more than one convention or show to be hosted simultaneously, according to Donna Alm, a spokeswoman for the center.
"The fear is that some of the businesses we have booked here will outgrow us before their year comes up," Alm said, referring to clients' reservations, which now stretch as far in advance as the year 2014.
For instance, the American Assn. of Family Physicians, which recently held a five-day convention here with 15,000 delegates, has tentatively signed up for another convention in 2001, when it will need more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, according to Reint Reinders, president of the San Diego Convention & Visitors (ConVis) bureau. The caveat is that Convention Center officials must tell the association by 1994 whether San Diego can double the size of its facility. If not, the association may go elsewhere, he said.
The family physician delegates "probably dropped $10 million to $15 million here when you consider how many people they brought" to the Convention Center, Reinders said. "They're the kind of client you'd like to have again."
When built in 1989, the center was the largest on the West Coast. But today it ranks fourth in the West, behind convention centers in San Francisco (500,000 square feet), Los Angeles (on schedule to expand to 500,000 square feet by mid-1993) and Anaheim (500,000 square feet).
Since opening in November, 1989, the Convention Center has attracted 614,000 out-of-town delegates. The CIC study says the existing center is expected to attract 270,000 delegates annually by 1994 and that an expanded center would achieve stable attendance of 430,000 by 1999, assuming the expansion project is completed--as officials hope--by late 1996.
If the center is not expanded by 1997 to meet the needs of large clients, convention officials say, downtown merchants will lose out on an estimated $100 million in potential business annually from delegates. Out-of-town delegates, CIC research shows, average about 39 years in age, have an annual income of $70,000, select flying as the transportation mode to reach San Diego and stay slightly more than four days at hotels while spending about $1,000 during their visits.
Alm said the Convention Center was built with the assumption that it would one day be expanded onto an adjoining, 15-acre parcel south of the center that now serves as a 1,500-car surface parking lot. It is unclear now, she said, where additional parking for an expanded center would be located.
City and Port District officials decided to build a mid-size convention center in order to "allow the local industry to grow into the building," Alm said.
"We have always been behind (in space relative to other major convention centers), and we want to get to a resolution as to when we can get started and what year the project will be completed," said Reinders of ConVis. "There's a lot of demand out there that we have on hold right now because we need to expand the center in order to book the business."