San Diego Union Tribune
City task force considers larger convention center
By Jeanette Steele Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. March 26, 2009
As 70 other cities engage in one-upsmanship in expanding their convention centers, San Diego is facing a dilemma.
It could move ahead on a proposal to expand the center and confront a possible market glut in uncertain economic times. Or it could do nothing and risk losing its advantage in the nation's convention hierarchy.
Tonight, a task force appointed by Mayor Jerry Sanders is set to consider enlarging the 600,000-square-foot bayfront facility â€“ an idea Sanders supports, though he says he will abide by the group's findings.
The task force is heavy with development and tourism boosters, so the greatest surprise would be if the group voted against building a new wing for the center by 2014.
Backers say a downturn is a good time to plan. They don't want to stall the economic engine that has pumped multimillions of dollars into the San Diego economy, or cause the loss of Comic-Con, the native-born cultural phenomenon that's outgrowing the center.
The city already competes in the top 10 North American convention destinations, as measured by volume of major events, according to Tradeshow Week, a publication that tracks the industry.
With an expansion of at least 200,000 to 300,000 square feet, the city could jump to the top five, sharing that rarefied space with New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando, a consultant's report shows.
Nationally, the convention center building boom was strongest between 2001 and 2004, when the United States and Canada added 12.9 million square feet of space. Now, 5.8 million square feet are in the construction pipeline through 2011, according to data from Tradeshow Week.
The wager that there will be enough demand to fill all the growing convention halls is â€œan expensive game to play for a city,â€