Unconventional logic

Combined stadium/convention center plan "ridiculous," says expert

Since the convention-center expansion was thumbed down by the appellate court, the corporate-welfare crowd — particularly the Chargers and U-T San Diego — has switched to touting a combined football stadium/convention center.

"It's going from the questionable [the expansion] to the ridiculous [the combined stadium/convention center]," says the nation's top authority on convention centers, professor Heywood Sanders, who wrote a seminal piece on convention center overexpansion for the Brookings Institution, and recently wrote the book Convention Center Follies, which tells how the nation has become so glutted with convention-center space that some centers are paying conventions to come to their cities while others are slashing prices steeply.

There are combined convention centers/stadiums in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. None does well as a center, says Sanders.

"The bottom line is there are 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of flat space on the floor." San Diego's center now has more than 600,000 square feet. Plus, the Chargers stadium/convention center would be several blocks away, and over the railroad tracks. Studies show that convention attendees don't want to walk from one building to another — even across the street. That's why, when the establishment was pushing the expansion, the key words were "contiguous, contiguous, contiguous." (Watch for "contiguous" to disappear from the local vocabulary.)

"Nothing I have ever seen suggests meeting planners are rushing to have conventions on playing fields of domed stadiums," says Sanders.

A facility with little space could not be an expansion of the current facility. It would have to be a stand-alone facility for small conventions. But there is no need for that. With all the competition and price-slashing in the overbuilt industry, San Diego won't have a shortage of space. Comic-Con is San Diego's big enchilada: will costumed attendees be content to be split between the main center and a smaller one a hike away?

The Chargers claim they are thinking about having space below the playing field. It's doubtful that will be taken seriously.

One thing is certain: mainstream media will pump the combined facility without examining the impracticalities, including the experience elsewhere.

And the convention center? It has a habit of exaggerating the statistics it uses, as Sanders has pointed out in the Reader many times. Yesterday (Aug. 10), he sent along another:

The local center predicted that the May 2014 gathering of the American Thoracic Society would have 16,000 attendees. But, last year, there were 13,596 in Philadelphia; in 2012, there were 14,661 in San Francisco; in 2011, there were 12,817 in Denver. This year's actual number in San Diego was 14,386.

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aardvark: Isn't it amazing how the corporate welfare crowd, particularly the U-T, preached "contiguous" for so long, and, after the courts rebuked the kinky financial plan, suddenly turned around and touted a half-baked, combined stadium/convention center that would never work? It has two strikes against it: 1. almost certainly small floor space, and 2. several blocks from the current center.

The center's head being caught with two family members on the payroll may wake up many San Diegans to what has been going on there for some time...lack of ethics, phony statistics, etc. Best, Don Bauder

Don: I don't know if the Manchester U-T put this on their pages because of the shenanigans going on at the convention center, or because the U-T knows that the convention center board (and many convention groups) don't want a non-contiguous expansion. Of course, the fact that the expansion is not needed at all is apparently irrelevant.

aardvark: The U-T would never study honest research, such as Heywood Sanders's, to make a decision on the convention center. It expresses its owner's biases; it doesn't know how to do research.

Sanders has a bachelor's from Johns Hopkins and a PhD from Harvard. Some flack for the convention center -- the guy who covers up the shenanigans there -- called Sanders "a whack job." This is one reason why San Diego is considered a backwater by many intellectuals. Best, Don Bauder

That term "contiguous" exists in state law in reference to cities and their annexation of areas on the boundaries. So, how is San Ysidro/Otay Mesa contiguous to the rest of the city of San Diego (which annexed the area in 1959?) Well, by some clever steps, the city of SD managed to run a one foot wide strip down the middle of San Diego Bay all the way to SY, and thus make that area on the border "contiguous" to the rest of the city.

Anyone living elsewhere in SD should wonder why the city wanted to add that strip of border land to the city. I don't know the answer but it was done. For as long as I've lived here, that area has been a thorn in the side of the city, a law enforcement pain-in-the-butt, another impoverished neighborhood (as if it didn't have enough of those already), and a general embarrassment. But if that hadn't been part of the city of SD, we never would have been treated to Wambaugh's "Lines and Shadows" novel, or any of a host of other things.

So, if anyone remembers the motivations for that piece of poor governance, please add your comments below. This convention center expansion would be right up there with the annexation of San Ysidro and Otay Mesa over a half-century ago.

Visduh: That is the first time I heard that story about San Ysidro. Classic. Agreed: any convention center expansion -- even a contiguous one -- would rank right up with the San Ysidro caper in stupidity.

I agree with Heywood Sanders that the idea of a combined stadium/convention center blocks away is the most ridiculous idea. With its infrastructure in shambles, San Diego does not need a convention center expansion or a new football stadium or both. It needs to fix roads, sewers, storm drains, etc. and get going on desalination, among several things, like boosting police, fire, park, and library services. Best, Don Bauder

Don: Unfortunately, Qualcomm Stadium is a big piece of the crumbling infrastructure, and even if a new stadium is built, it would probably receive the same great care the current stadium gets. The City needs to decide what infrastructure gets fixed first, and I think a new stadium will be one of the infrastructure projects done sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the next time we get a heavy rain, I will watch the grass and weeds grow through the cracks on my street. I don't think it's even been slurry-sealed in at least 40 years.

aardvark: In determining which infrastructure projects go first, San Diego must consider what gets the most usage. That criterion would probably put Qualcomm Stadium last on the list. Best, Don Bauder

Don: True--they SHOULD put the Q last on the list, but knowing the history of the city "leaders", their priorities will no doubt be out of whack.

aardvark: Absolutely. First will come a new stadium. If that effort is stopped, the most critical infrastructure project will be said to be the Q. Those who want safe roads, safe water, police and fire protection, sewer system upgrades and the like will have to wait. The big money wants jock straps at the public's expense. Best, Don Bauder

Regarding the question of contiguous annexation of San Ysidro. You'll find the information in this scholarly document. http://www.stopncannexation.com/viewcontent.pdf The relevant part begins on page 19 of 39, of the PDF. (Page 15 of the actual document.) While the motivations for annexation are alluded to, many insights to the workings of San Diego politics, at THAT time, are also included. I found them erriley similar to today's power brokers in our city.

Thanks for the link. I'll be looking closely at it.

JustWondering: I haven't had time to read the document, but I can believe you: corruption has been around a long time in San Diego. For just one reason, corruption goes with an economy greatly reliant on real estate. Best, Don Bauder

it will be entertaining if it comes to a public vote to see how much misinformation will be in the media promoting it.

Murphyjunk: One could write a book on media misinformation in San Diego. One problem, though, is that the book would get lousy reviews in the local media. Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauder: Sadly true...with no signs change in the foreseeable future as to the ongoing corruption in our town.

JustWondering: Yes, I see no signs of change. If anything, the corporate welfare crowd is feeling its oats more than ever, since its scheme to get rid of Filner succeeded, and it put its own lackey in the mayor's seat. Best, Don Bauder

At the risk of sounding as if I am in favor of spending scarce public money on unnecessary and uneconomical convention space or on a football stadium, which I am not, I wonder if the noncontiguous boosters have thought of building a tunnel. That would make lots of places contiguous provided the mini train ride was not too long.

I hope I am not adding fuel to the flames of money-wasting boondoggles but I thought I would throw it out there. Hopefully they have already discarded it as too expensive and impractical. But it may be fun to explore. Perhaps it would "out" the hidden seismic genie. Wouldn't it be nice if they explored the idea only to discard it because their studies found that downtown is honeycombed with seismic faults. Which it is!

patflannery: If San Diego leaders don't know already that downtown is honeycombed with seismic faults, things are really hopeless. Best, Don Bauder

An underground passage would present another issue beside the seismic one mentioned by Mr. Flannery. The sea water table at the existing convention center requires pumps running continuously to keep the underground parking facility dry.

JustWondering: Good point. Keeping a tunnel dry and safe would cost a bundle. Best, Don Bauder

Not to mention any below-grade parking structure. I am told that the number of cars destroyed on the UCLA campus a couple of weeks ago following the water pipe failure is in the thousands.

Someone must have told you wrong. According to UCLA, there were739 vehicles trapped in Parking Structures 4 and 7 because of flooding, about 500 of which were submerged to varying degrees and 325 were on the lower levels.

You very likely have a more accurate count than I heard. Still, it is a shock that a water pipe could fail to that degree, in an area where it is thought everything is very well maintained.

Here is something I also heard--as an aside to this story--that pipes are failing all over, and in fact some pipes have completely rusted through, but the water is following along the lines as the soil is clay. I really think all cities need to look into all the water, sewer, storm drains and gas lines because when things go wrong, they really go wrong.

CHICAGO SPENDS $26.5 MILLION TO LURE CONVENTIONS. The Chicago Sun-Times came out today with a story showing that over the past three years, $26.5 million of Illinois taxpayers' money has been spent to lure conventions to Chicago's convention center, called McCormick Place. Another $10 million has gone to Rosemont, a suburb with a convention center.

Financially, Illinois is one of the sickest of the 50 states. Nonetheless, state law permits the convention centers to get as much as $20 million a year for the purpose of subsidizing conventions -- $15 million to McCormick Place and $5 million to Rosemont -- in perpetuity. State government tries to keep it secret, but after working for a long time, the Sun-Times was able to put the figures together.

'This is a far more generous -- and far more outrageous -- use of general revenue funds than I have seen in other places," says University of Texas San Antonio Professor Heywood Sanders, the nation's expert on convention centers. But "everybody does it" to some degree, says Sanders. "Everyone is competing themselves into the ground."

Some places are offering conventions discounts of more than 100 percent -- the conventions are being paid to hold their gatherings in certain cities. This is how overbuilt convention centers are. And they are getting more overbuilt, as metro areas build new centers and expand existing ones. Best, Don Bauder

Is Heywood Sanders a hidden reference to a former mayor?

Hey! Would Sanders?

ImJustABill: There is absolutely no relationship between Jerry Sanders and Heywood Sanders -- none whatever, I can assure you. Back when Jerry Sanders was mayor, it was difficult to write about both Jerry and Heywood in the same column. Best, Don Bauder

Don, you're doing a great job keeping this issue before the public. Keep up the good work.

Myron Shelley

exkidder (Myron Shelley): Myron. Many thanks. Sometimes I think I have written too much on this subject, but with all the information and misinformation out there, a writer has to keep hammering away at a scam being perpetrated on the public. I plan more columns and blog items on this topic. Best, Don Bauder

Kevin Swanson: No subsidized stadium anywhere, in my opinion. If the NFL and Spanos family want to put up 100 percent of the funds (including for infrastructure), I have no objection. Best, Don Bauder

Kurt Miller: CenturyLink Field is used for conventions and entertainment. I have never heard how successful it is. Heywood Sanders doesn't believe combined stadia/centers work well. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Ritter: Heywood Sanders says the combined convention centers/stadia in those three cities are not successful. I have read up on them and find the same. Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Atlanta have not had good experiences with combined stadia/centers. Best, Don Bauder

Don Wood: Nothing ever became of that study? It's so cockamamie that you would think it would have been put into effect. Best, Don Bauder

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