Parking Shapes Up as Big Headache at Convention Center

San Diego County Business Editor

Concerned that a lack of convenient parking could seriously harm the attractiveness of San Diego’s convention center as a weekend destination for local residents, the center’s manager said he is working out arrangements with off-site public parking facilities to ease the center’s shortage.

Now aiming at an early 1990 opening, the $160-million convention center offers only 1,950 on-site parking spaces, 700 of which are committed to the use of guests at the adjacent San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, convention center general manager Tom F. Liegler said.

Although he considers the on-site parking adequate for weekday conventions, when most delegates will be traveling to and from the center on foot, taxi and public transport, the spaces are only a fraction of what will be needed for giant weekend consumer shows that may attract 20,000 or more visitors.

A recent parking study done for facility operator San Diego Convention Center Corp. by Linscott, Law & Greenspan of San Diego found that up to 4,200 more off-site spaces will be required on weekends to accommodate visitors to boat, home, auto and other consumer trade shows.


Liegler said he is concerned that adequate parking be available immediately at the center’s opening so that visitors to weekend shows are not left with a bad first impression. Local good will is important, he said, because, unlike the weekday shows that will pull delegates from around the country, the weekend shows will draw primarily from the 4 million inhabitants of the San Diego-Tijuana region.

“We live in a shopping center syndrome in which people want to drive right up to the store, park and walk in,” Liegler said. “If people leave their homes to come to our facility to see a show, they are going to expect parking in a nearby area as they would if they were going to a ballgame, the theater or a shopping center.”

Liegler is negotiating with the San Diego Unified Port District for temporary use of 1,500 parking spaces at the site of the former Campbell Shipyard directly south of the convention center site. But those parking spaces will not be available forever: the long-term plan for the property is for expansion of the convention center.

The second major off-site source of parking being eyed by Liegler is the Metropolitan Transit District Board’s headquarters now under construction at 12th Avenue at Imperial Avenue. Up to 1,000 parking stalls will be available at the site on weekends and 400 on weekdays.

Convention center visitors who park at MTDB would either take the San Diego Trolley’s planned Bayside line extension to the hall if the line is finished on time or a shuttle service supplied by the center, Liegler said.

A third source of parking is the 1,300 spaces in the Civic Center parkade on A Street at 1st Avenue, a site that could also be reached by visitors by way of the planned Bayside trolley line or shuttle service. Another future source of parking could be 700 spaces that may become available if a controversial parking structure planned for the Seaport Village expansion is approved.

None of the above proposals is final, and Liegler was reluctant to say when he expects agreements to be struck, saying that is up to the individual public agencies controlling the parking.