COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | SHARON BERNIE-CLOWARD

Port tenants eagerly await Convention Center expansion

Few economic success stories match that of our bayfront San Diego Convention Center. It is a clean-industry economic engine that brings in visitors. Visitor spending not only supports a wide variety of businesses, but also generates tax dollars to support vital public services.

An expanded Convention Center will bring in more visitors, have a greater economic impact and enhance the region’s marketability. That is why the San Diego Port Tenants Association eagerly anticipates that the expansion will be approved by the California Coastal Commission when it takes up the proposal Thursday.

The region needs this expansion. Everyone will win, including the Port tenants who make up the association that I am fortunate to head.

Port tenants’ dog in the hunt

Most everyone knows that tourism is the region’s second-largest economic sector, or traded economy. The Port tenants contribute greatly to that industry.

The direct annual economic impact from visitor-serving Port tenants is $1.7 billion and 11,000 direct jobs. The overall economic impact for the region is $4 billion and 36,000 jobs. Our businesses, from hotels to restaurants to retail outlets to attractions like the Midway Museum to sport fishing companies derive a great deal of their business from conventioneers simply by virtue of being close to the waterfront Convention Center.

While it is difficult to allocate revenues to just conventioneers (many of them do take off their name badges before they enter our bars, restaurants and stores), Port tenants feed the Port, through a percentage of concession revenues. The Port, in turn, feeds the region by providing for a balance of uses and supporting activities around San Diego Bay, ranging from recreation to fishing to maintaining 18 public parks — unheard of at other ports around the world.

How do Port tenants feed the Port? One way is through a percentage of concessions and related revenues in the hospitality sector. Last year, hotels provided $32.86 million. Restaurants and retail outlets provided $5.28 million. Sport fishing provided $1.50 million. Sport fishing counts. Consider the conventioneers who stay longer to enjoy a chartered fishing trip.

Expanded benefits

In fiscal year 2013, the Convention Center attracted more than 750,000 attendees, who accounted for $12.2 million in hotel and sales tax. Those people accounted for nearly 730,000 hotel room nights and an enormous amount of restaurant business.

One more set of numbers: The expansion will add $698 million in annual economic impact, $13.5 million in tax revenues and nearly 7,000 permanent jobs.

Remember that the impact goes far beyond the immediate area. Spending by conventioneers eases the tax burden on San Diego residents. Hotel and sales tax dollars stay here long after the convention is over and filter into communities. Those dollars help pay for police and fire protection, the upkeep of libraries and museums, and maintaining parks and beaches enjoyed by everyone.

Without those dollars, San Diego residents would either pay more in taxes or have less in the way of vital public services

Conventioneers aren’t fenced in to just the Port tidelands and aren’t restricted to doing business with Port tenants.

Conventioneers cross the street into the Gaslamp Quarter. They go to recommended restaurants downtown, in Hillcrest and beyond.

Conventioneers want to see our world-famous attractions as much as other visitors. They go to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the zoo’s Safari Park and even Legoland.

And you can bet that conventioneers enjoy our 70 miles of beaches, enjoying food and drink nearby when they do.

An expanded Convention Center means more and bigger conventions. Both mean more convention visitors. That means more for all of us. More really is more.

Support the Convention Center expansion today! Want to know how? Go to www.conventioncenterexpansion.com and click on Show Your Support. We all need for this to happen.

Bernie-Cloward is president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association. Formed in 1989, it comprises more than 300 members dedicated to enhancing trade, commerce, and tourism on San Diego Bay’s tidelands, while protecting the area’s environment.

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