A rendering of the proposed stadium. Petco Park is visible on the far left. Courtesy San Diego Chargers
A rendering of the proposed stadium. Petco Park is visible on the far left. Courtesy San Diego Chargers

Consultants studying a new downtown stadium for the Chargers say it will be an economic boon for San Diego’s convention business, but the hotel industry isn’t convinced.

That was the message from a debate Wednesday on the economic impact of Measure C, the ballot initiative to increase the hotel room tax to fund a combination football stadium and convention center.

Representatives of two teams of consultants faced off at the Liberty Station Conference Center in an event sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University.

The consultants for the Chargers argued that San Diego is a top-tier destination that is already “booked to capacity, but consultants for the hotel industry said that analysis is wrong.

Rob Hunden

“There’s a line of folks going down the block that want to be in San Diego,” said Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, which is working for the Chargers.

“Fundamentally what we found is a mismatch,” said Tom Hazinski, managing partner of HVS’ convention, sports and entertainment practice, which studied the plan for the hotel industry. “Event planners — your customers — don’t like the Chargers’ plan.”

The two studies’ estimates of the impact are wildly different. The Chargers side estimates 225,000 additional room nights annually, versus 90,000 for the hotel industry side.

Hazinski was joined on the panel by Joe Terzi, president of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Joe Terzi

“Rob is speaking about a destination that I haven’t heard of,” Terzi said, calling the Chargers’ plan “a facility customers don’t want.”

“The best bang for the buck is to expand the existing convention center,” he said.

Hazinski said that most the studies of new football stadiums do not show economic benefit for a city. “Stadiums do not have net new economic impacts,” he argued.

He said he wasn’t advocating letting the Chargers leave, but believes better options could be developed.

David O’Neal, chairman of Conventional Wisdom Corporation, said San Diego shouldn’t miss an opportunity to keep the Chargers and expand the convention space at the same time.

“There’s an old adage that ‘if you built it they will come.’ Well this might just be true,” said O’Neal. “I believe that doing nothing would be the worst long-term option for the community.”

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.