Comic-Con Brings Spotlight to Convention Center Battle

Created: 21 July, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

San Diego-Comic-Con is in the house.

That house is the Convention Center in America's Finest City.

With the iconic convention in town -- for years the largest in San Diego -- it's a good opportunity to educate on the question that's become such a political football in San Diego.

Would a non-contiguous expansion of the Convention Center and possible Chargers stadium component have a damaging effect on tourism and attracting conventions to San Diego?

Here are arguments for a contiguous expansion of the Convention Center using the raw data compiled by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR):

  • An increase in mid-sized conventions and trade shows of between 7 and 8 events. Contiguous provides greater flexibility for events in this category.
  • Contiguous could result in retaining and/or capturing two events annually that require over 525,000 square feet of exhibit space.
  • Contiguous can better accommodate multiple overlapping events.

Here are arguments for a non-contiguous expansion of the Convention Center.

  • 60% of conventions require less than 225,000 square feet (39 conventions)
  • 31% of conventions fall between needing 225,000 and 525,000 square feet (20 conventions)
  • 9% of conventions require more than 525,000 square feet ( 6 conventions. These conventions used the Sails Pavilion and ballrooms as exhibit space)
  • A campus-style expansion -- with or without a Chargers stadium component -- would create a 365 day a year use
  • San Diego has 12 competitors in the Convention Center space. Of those 12, nine have non-contiguous exhibit spaces, including Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In 2014, one of those cities, Anaheim, compared a standard 160,000 contiguous expansion with a 180,000 "flex" space or non-contiguous option. The report found that the "flex"  expansion would result in a "higher net incremental gain to the city."


Chief Communications and Strategy Officer for Comic-Con David Glanzer, has made his feelings known over the issue of contiguous vs. non-contiguous.

Glanzer said:

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"The bottom line is any convention center expansion should be considered because of the value that new facility will bring to the city as a whole, and not just whether it can accommodate one convention." Glanzer continued, "We still believe strongly that a contiguous expansion is the best solution for the city. We will examine whatever the final decision is and try to work within whatever parameters we are given." - David Glanzer, Comic-Con International

A couple small business owners in the East Village spoke to IVN San Diego. Due to the sensitive, political nature of this story, they didn't want to be identified. One high-profile business owner told IVN San Diego, "We love Comic-Con and all the energy it brings to downtown. I personally don't feel a contiguous or non-contiguous expansion would harm our business. But I do think we should have the Convention Center expanded one way or another. I just wish we could get a political consensus in this city."

Raising the TOT

Also at-issue, the arguments for and against raising the Transient Occupancy Tax from 12.5% to 15.5%.  The City of San Diego collects at 10.5%. The local hoteliers collect an additional, and some would say illegal 2% on top of the city's portion. That 2% is about equal to 30 million dollars annually.

Those against raising the TOT argue it will kill tourism in San Diego and send tourists and convention bookers looking to spend their dollars elsewhere.

Those for the increase say it's high-time San Diego gets in line with Anaheim, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, who charge 17%, 16.25%, and 15.5% respectively.

The 15.5% rate would be 1.5% lower than what Anaheim charges. Has Anaheim been hurt by charging 17%?

The facts say no.

Their revenues in FY 11 and FY 12 grew 6 and 9%, respectively, and have continued to grow by a similar rate every year thereafter.