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In face of Covid, San Diego city council dreams of bigger conventions

New Orleans warned of worsening "impacts from the pandemic on convention activity"

Barbara Bry pushed back against the council move.
Barbara Bry pushed back against the council move.

The San Diego hotel lobby has long used other peoples' money in the form of an ever-growing tax on transient room occupants to underwrite its developments and finance its powerful sway over city hall.

Most recently, closed-door lobbying by termed-out Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer, who benefits from his wife's convention-related party booking business, resulted in a council vote to avoid declaring the tax-raising Measure C dead due to the initiative’s failure to muster a legally-required two-thirds vote.

Gary Shapiro: "Virtual events are changing the way we meet."

The council's move dovetails neatly with the strategy of the hotel lobby, as well as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and construction unions, which hope that the state supreme court throws out retroactively the super-majority vote currently required to impose tax increases.

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Pushback against the council’s move to ignore a vote of the electorate came in the form of opposition by Democratic councilwoman Barbara Bry, running for mayor against Assembly Democrat Todd Gloria.

He is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, California Restaurant Association, and the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association, as well as being a beneficiary of six-figure campaign cash from lodging interests, including Evans Hotels, whose growth is dependent on an expanded convention center financed with new tax dollars.

Councilwomen Vivian Moreno and Monica Montgomery joined Bry in opposing the council's failure to declare Measure C dead.

Alliance San Diego, a non-profit advocacy group opposed to the initiative, contended in a statement that the council had "undermined our democracy' in "voting to 'certify' the March primary election results. "As Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry stated in rejecting the move, this is a break in faith with voters."

Enter the worldwide catastrophe called the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down the convention business everywhere, and which some predict could mark the ultimate end of the costly gatherings, forcing most such activities online.

Depending on the unpredictable course of the epidemic, the lucrative national meeting business could virtually evaporate, say skeptics, with many convention venues, financed by public debt, destroying the balance sheets of their municipal sponsors.

Such could be the case in the city of New Orleans, hard hit by COVID-19, where a financial watchdog has just released an April 9 report questioning the wisdom of paying $767 million in public subsidies for a mammoth Omni Hotel next to the city's convention center.

"In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a significant economic blow to New Orleans, hitting the tourism and convention industries particularly hard," says the grim analysis by the non-profit Bureau of Government Research.

"Despite the extraordinary new circumstances, Convention Center officials are pressing forward to finalize a deal to build a 1,200-room hotel attached to the center.

The report goes on to highlight "the risks of moving forward with the project absent an informed analysis of the pandemic's longer-term impacts on tourism and conventions," a project which neither Faulconer nor the council has yet set out to accomplish in San Diego

"The report recommends that the Convention Center and its board refrain from entering into any agreements concerning the hotel project while the pandemic is ongoing," concludes a summary.

"It further recommends that they commission a new or updated hotel feasibility study once the pandemic subsides, taking into account anticipated longer-term impacts from the pandemic on convention activity."

Meanwhile, convention sponsors are contemplating moves to online meetings, reducing the justification for physical expansions like the one planned in San Diego.

“Venues and planners can work together to find digital/virtual solutions to reduce some of the spatial needs for the event,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association told a March 26 meeting industry blog.

"Virtual events are changing the way we meet, and could greatly reduce the spatial requirements for a meeting. As the meetings industry embarks on the road to recovery following coronavirus, hybrid events could greatly assist in financial balancing while we slowly incorporate the return of face-to-face interactions.”

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Barbara Bry pushed back against the council move.
Barbara Bry pushed back against the council move.

The San Diego hotel lobby has long used other peoples' money in the form of an ever-growing tax on transient room occupants to underwrite its developments and finance its powerful sway over city hall.

Most recently, closed-door lobbying by termed-out Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer, who benefits from his wife's convention-related party booking business, resulted in a council vote to avoid declaring the tax-raising Measure C dead due to the initiative’s failure to muster a legally-required two-thirds vote.

Gary Shapiro: "Virtual events are changing the way we meet."

The council's move dovetails neatly with the strategy of the hotel lobby, as well as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and construction unions, which hope that the state supreme court throws out retroactively the super-majority vote currently required to impose tax increases.

Sponsored
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Pushback against the council’s move to ignore a vote of the electorate came in the form of opposition by Democratic councilwoman Barbara Bry, running for mayor against Assembly Democrat Todd Gloria.

He is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, California Restaurant Association, and the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association, as well as being a beneficiary of six-figure campaign cash from lodging interests, including Evans Hotels, whose growth is dependent on an expanded convention center financed with new tax dollars.

Councilwomen Vivian Moreno and Monica Montgomery joined Bry in opposing the council's failure to declare Measure C dead.

Alliance San Diego, a non-profit advocacy group opposed to the initiative, contended in a statement that the council had "undermined our democracy' in "voting to 'certify' the March primary election results. "As Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry stated in rejecting the move, this is a break in faith with voters."

Enter the worldwide catastrophe called the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down the convention business everywhere, and which some predict could mark the ultimate end of the costly gatherings, forcing most such activities online.

Depending on the unpredictable course of the epidemic, the lucrative national meeting business could virtually evaporate, say skeptics, with many convention venues, financed by public debt, destroying the balance sheets of their municipal sponsors.

Such could be the case in the city of New Orleans, hard hit by COVID-19, where a financial watchdog has just released an April 9 report questioning the wisdom of paying $767 million in public subsidies for a mammoth Omni Hotel next to the city's convention center.

"In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a significant economic blow to New Orleans, hitting the tourism and convention industries particularly hard," says the grim analysis by the non-profit Bureau of Government Research.

"Despite the extraordinary new circumstances, Convention Center officials are pressing forward to finalize a deal to build a 1,200-room hotel attached to the center.

The report goes on to highlight "the risks of moving forward with the project absent an informed analysis of the pandemic's longer-term impacts on tourism and conventions," a project which neither Faulconer nor the council has yet set out to accomplish in San Diego

"The report recommends that the Convention Center and its board refrain from entering into any agreements concerning the hotel project while the pandemic is ongoing," concludes a summary.

"It further recommends that they commission a new or updated hotel feasibility study once the pandemic subsides, taking into account anticipated longer-term impacts from the pandemic on convention activity."

Meanwhile, convention sponsors are contemplating moves to online meetings, reducing the justification for physical expansions like the one planned in San Diego.

“Venues and planners can work together to find digital/virtual solutions to reduce some of the spatial needs for the event,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association told a March 26 meeting industry blog.

"Virtual events are changing the way we meet, and could greatly reduce the spatial requirements for a meeting. As the meetings industry embarks on the road to recovery following coronavirus, hybrid events could greatly assist in financial balancing while we slowly incorporate the return of face-to-face interactions.”

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Comments

The tourism cabal just never gives up; their ballot proposal failed to pass, and now they grasp at a straw that the state supreme court might decide it didn't need 2/3 approval. Rather than admit that conventions were becoming less popular and that those that were still held had fewer attendees, they want to expand the operation in some sort of hope that big ones might come. The smart thing to do now is to try to salvage as much as they can and keep the existing facility viable for a few more years. Tourism can and will remain a draw here regardless. Swimming against the current and building more space in a shrinking market is madness, yet that's what the power structure wants to do. Sad that Todd Gloria is now in their pocket. Bry looks better to me--although I don't live in or vote in the City of San Diego--all the time.

April 10, 2020

The tourist industry is fine for the Wall Street owners of the hotels, bars and restaurants. They are happy to suck their profits away from San Diego and then support some local politicians. But the tourist industry does nothing for San Diego citizens. Those who work in hotels, bars and restaurants are paid minimum wage or less. They contribute nothing to the economy.

San Diego needs an industry that is locally owned. An industry that brings in profits from outside San Diego. An industry that hires local people at a living wage. Our universities create such industries such as Qualcomm and the Salk Institute, but many other potential startups are allowed to move to other locations. Why aren't we offering incentives for them?

The tourist industry is not what we need.

April 10, 2020

Always follow the money and you will find who owns and operates the politician. It is all about money. Like a religion government wants money. They never have enough. In my I think that the days of large conventions are over. Small gatherings may occur and some tech shows, car shows etc. may use the convention center but like many convention centers and malls will be going away.

April 11, 2020
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