SAN DIEGO — Of the many attractions that make San Diego distinct from other locales in Southern California, two of the most popular are Comic-Con and the Chargers.
The annual nerd-fest that is Comic-Con is an unrivaled summer explosion of costumed exuberance. And since the flight of the Rams and Raiders nearly two decades ago, the Chargers are the only NFL team in the region.
But to the dismay of civic boosters, the football franchise and the pop-culture extravaganza have both put San Diego on notice that they need better venues or they might have to move, maybe even to dreaded Los Angeles.
So to retain Comic-Con, and to attract even more high-spending conventions, officials have proposed expanding the waterfront San Diego Convention Center at an estimated cost of $520 million.
But the Chargers say the expansion plan would scuttle the team’s idea for a new home field to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium — which officials say would help the team remain in San Diego.
The plan has already been approved by the City Council and the Unified Port District. It envisions expanding the existing center on the bay-front side.
The Chargers say a better strategy would be to build an additional convention venue several blocks away, as part of a joint use with a new stadium, and possibly other tourist-drawing businesses.
The team’s idea is still on the drawing board but has brought interest from a major designer of convention centers and sports venues, as well as from the financial community.
At the heart of the dispute is the word “contiguous.”
City officials say it is mandatory that the new space be connected to the existing space. The Chargers, through spokesman Mark Fabiani, contend it is not mandatory and say City Hall and the Port District never truly considered an alternative.
Comic-Con officials support the expansion plan pending before the commission. “An expanded facility is a good proposition for San Diego,” Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said.
Comic-Con was born in San Diego in 1970 when a small band of comic-book fans held a gathering in a downtown hotel. It now attracts more than 130,000 people to an event displaying the latest in comics, sci-fi, anime, horror, animation and other popular arts. Hollywood figures come to pay respect to their fans.
With exploding popularity has come grousing from devoted attendees that Comic-Con has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, with events too crowded, lines too long and some potential exhibitors turned away.
Los Angeles and Anaheim, both with larger convention centers, have tried to lure the event away.