Moscone Center expansion plans unveiled by travel association

In a bid to re-establish The City’s place among West Coast convention destinations, the Moscone Convention Center could add more than 200,000 square feet of underground and aboveground convention and meeting space.

San Francisco Travel Association President Joe D’Alessandro unveiled plans to add the meeting and exhibition space Friday during a San Francisco Business Times event about future development here.

The South of Market convention center is no longer large enough to accommodate all the clients looking to hold events in San Francisco, D’Alessandro said, and The City has lost $2 billion in business because of space limitations. Despite ranking just 25th in size for convention facilities, he added, the Moscone Center generates the most money per square foot.

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“Every time we have built or expanded the building, we have filled it up,” D’Alessandro said Monday.

Mayor Ed Lee announced the development of the 25-year master plan in late June, and the new details are part of the first five-year portion of the project.

Currently, D’Alessandro said, two subterranean exhibit halls tied together by a thin connector provide 440,000 square feet of convention space. Excavating and repurposing 100,000 square feet between them would open up the space below Howard Street and create an exhibit space that could be broken up or used as one large area, he said.

Conventions that use the Moscone Center have been asking for years for the facility to create a larger, contiguous space, said John Noguchi, The City’s convention facilities manager.

Aboveground, building atop the existing Moscone North and South buildings will add another 100,000 square feet of meeting space to be connected with a walkway.

Noguchi said the expansion will allow San Francisco to be competitive with other West Coast cities, such as San Diego, to keep current clients and to potentially gain new ones.

Funding for the $500 million public-private project is expected to come primarily from hotels through the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District, with The City possibly contributing a portion of the funding.

“The hotels will vote this fall to do a new assessment on themselves so that they can be a large part of the funding of this,” D’Alessandro said.

The improvement district currently levies an assessment of between 1 percent and 1.5 percent on hotel revenue. A portion of that assessment, 0.5 percent, went toward expansion planning and a recently completed $56 million renovation to update the Moscone Center, according to Jennifer Matz of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. That portion of the assessment covered five years and is up for renewal to pay for the planned expansion, Matz said.

As the assessment campaign moves forward, The City will be working on the expansion’s planning and environmental review, Matz said.

Conventions, according to information from the Mayor’s Office, are a vital part of tourism, The City’s largest industry — which supports more than 70,000 jobs and generates more than $8 billion annually.

The expanded Moscone Center is expected to open just after a proposed waterfront arena for the Warriors could open, creating even more space for conventions and events. The team wants to privately finance a 17,000- to 19,000-seat arena on Piers 30-32, a site along The Embarcadero just south of the Bay Bridge.

Site looking to integrate into neighborhood

Expansion of the Moscone Convention Center will not only add new meeting and exhibition space, but it also will make the facility a better part of the neighborhood with more open space and improved pedestrian accessibility, say people involved with the project.

“It is very important to try to improve the street feel of the area around Moscone,” said Jennifer Matz of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

When the convention center was built, it was in an isolated area, noted Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Travel Association. Since then, the neighborhood has developed.

The 25-year project includes proposals such as reconnecting the alleyways that currently end at the edge of the Moscone Center, allowing them to traverse the so-called superblocks occupied by the convention center.

D’Alessandro said another goal is to make the center more pedestrian-friendly.

In the short term, enlargement of the exhibition space in the next five years includes creating more open space by using the new roof area for an expansion of the Yerba Buena Gardens.

The goal is to appeal as much to the community as to the convention industry.

“It will provide a much more inviting area for people to come down to,” said John Noguchi, The City’s convention facilities manager.

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