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Gaylord project seeks support for Chula Vista project

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Coming in to Chula Vista with a price tag of $900 million in a time where the word "recession" is becoming a rumble more than rumor, Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed resort and convention center continues to create a stir in South San Diego County.

Gaylord Senior Vice President of Development and Design Bennett Westbrook spoke to the South County Economic Development Council on Tuesday in National City, hoping to find a supportive group for the proposed resort and convention site.

The proposed 2 million-square-foot development on the bay front in Chula Vista would include a 2,000 room hotel, a 200,000-square-foot exhibition space -- capped as to not compete with the San Diego Convention Center -- meeting spaces, restaurants and a night club. It would be part of Gaylord Hotels, a subsidiary of Gaylord Entertainment (NYSE: GET).

Labor groups have sought after Gaylord and other proposed South County projects like a possible Chargers stadium, to use local labor first.

A rendering of Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed resort and convention center in Chula Vista.

After all, building the Gaylord project is estimated to have a $1.3 billion economic impact, helping the struggling construction industry with a payroll of $456 million. The project could create 9,981 jobs, directly and indirectly in construction.

At one point the labor issue caused the Nashville-based company to stop discussion of the project completely. Talks resumed in August.

However, Westbrook said costs would be too high if the company relied on local labor and not competitive bidding.

“We can’t subsidize their turf battle,” he said of the labor groups Tuesday. When asked, he did note that his company would consider using local architects and designers and would utilize vendors in the area.

The proposed 2 million-square-foot development would include a 2,000-room hotel, a 200,000-square-foot exhibition space, meeting spaces, restaurants and a night club.

Once the project is complete -- scheduled for 2013 -- Westbrook said the economic impact would likely be $393 million, with 3,000 jobs at the resort.

The Port of San Diego and Chula Vista are aiding the project -- the port is putting the rent Gaylord would pay on the land toward infrastructure to the project. Chula Vista will be contributing the city’s hotel taxes for the fist part of the project, but in the end, Westbrook said the taxes would go back to the city.

“It’s a windfall over the long term for the port and Chula Vista,” he said. Westbrook emphasized that the hotels are an asset to the community, both as an attraction and an employer.

The company has received numerous awards as a quality employer in the areas they have resorts. They also house local meetings, events, weddings and formal dances in the communities.

The company has already started donating to San Diego groups as a way to reach the community. They donated to funds helping fire victims, the Chula Vista YMCA and United Way, among others.

The development is held up, waiting on the results of an environmental impact review.

Once that is finished -- likely in a few months -- the review will be open for public comment, before making its way before the State Lands Committee and the Coastal Commission. If approved, Gaylord will hopefully be able to finalize its lease agreement with the port.

Also creating a pause is the power plant. Westbrook declined to clarify Tuesday the details of the power plant -- but said the statement in a letter to the port and Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox rings true.

"We are certain that this facility would negatively impact the guest experience at our hotel, if it were to remain in existence by the time of our opening," Westbrook wrote in December 2006.

The San Diego Chargers are looking at building a stadium at the power plant location. Westbrook said they’d welcome that.

“We like the idea of getting critical mass in the bay front,” he said.

For those worried that visitors to the hotel may stay in the hotel and not spend their tourist revenue elsewhere, Westbrook said it won’t happen because guests come to the cities to be tourists.

A guest at a Gaylord resort averages a up to a four-night stay at the hotel and attends programmed events at the hotel for half of that time.

Gaylord decided about six years ago to focus on the resort industry, after building a successful resort in Nashville that they believed could be used as a model to be successful anywhere.

Now, with three hotels and one opening this year, 90 percent of their revenue comes from their resort and convention business. The remainder comes from attractions that Gaylord owns, such as The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

Many of Gaylord’s clients use the resorts exclusively for their conferences – rotating between the Texan in Dallas, Opryland in Nashville, Palms in Kissimmee, Fla. near Orlando and soon the National in Washington, D.C.

Gaylord is looking to expand westward to offer their clients more variety.

“Chula Vista, San Diego, is a very strategic location for us,” Westbrook said.

The organizations that would likely come to Chula Vista were not named. However, according to the National Harbor Web site, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. (NYSE: GT) is a client that uses the Gaylord hotel system for its conventions.

Other organizations advertising conferences at Gaylord projects on their respective Web sites include Healthcare Design, General Audit Management by the Institute of Internal Auditors and Extrusion Technology for Aluminum Profiles Foundation.

Westbrook said of all the developments Gaylord has built across the country, they have faced the most opposition in attempting to build in San Diego.

Cox encouraged the EDC to support the project, noting that it’s a reflection on the county that Gaylord is coming from out-of-state to develop in Chula Vista.

“Gaylord can go anywhere they want and they have chosen south San Diego,” she said.

Send your comments to Natalie.Wardel@sddt.com

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