A judge in San Diego may have removed one of the last important obstacles before an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center can begin. On Monday, California Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager issued an informal ruling that the proposed hotel use tax approved last year to pay for the $520 million project is legal.
Prager will hear from lawyers representing the city of San Diego, the convention center and opponents one more time Wednesday before issuing a final decision.
Assuming there is no appeal of the decision that would block collection of the tax and interim financing, the convention center expansion could be completed by late 2016 or early 2017. A city-commissioned report has said an additional 220,000 square feet of exhibit space, 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting room space and 80,000 sq. ft. of ballroom space could drive an additional 250,000 visitors to the city and generate $350 million in economic activity each year.
However, the real plum is San Diego Comic-Con, which has extended its commitment to the convention center through 2016, but has warned it will look at other locations for its constantly sold-out consumer event if more space isn’t available by 2017.
Opponents of the tax, including a group called San Diegans for Open Government, believe the bed tax on hotel guests should have been approved by a public vote. Instead, it was approved by a two-thirds vote of the hoteliers whose guests will pay the tax, ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, depending on their proximity to the center.
Prager said in his decision that the convention center financing district that had been formed to pay for the expansion “was properly formed” and “the election regarding the special tax at issue in this action conformed with all applicable constitutional provisions.”
If there is no further appeal, the final plans must still be approved by the, which evaluates the impact of any development on the California coastline. That review is expected by June.