Moscone Convention Center faces uncertain future, Grand Jury says

Street conditions, safety concerns and steep costs make San Francisco less attractive for events

Even before the pandemic, San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center faced a potential loss of business due to factors such as “street blight” and steep costs that make The City by the Bay less attractive for conventions, according to a recent Civil Grand Jury report.

But city officials have said that while they agree the convention center is vitally important to The City’s tourism industry, there’s a limit to what they do can to help it in the near future.

Moscone Center generates business for restaurants, hotel rooms and other hospitality services that accounts for roughly 20 percent of San Francisco’s $10 billion travel and tourism sector, according to the report. All told, the industry generates thousands of jobs, patrons for local business and substantial tax revenue.

The Civil Grand Jury, a 19-person panel appointed to probe government operations, spent one year before the pandemic interviewing relevant stakeholders, city agencies and industry experts, conducting site research during live events and analyzing relevant documents to determine whether the recent success of the Moscone Center and the convention business writ large is sustainable.

Its findings, released in an October report, determined the convention industry’s “overall economic impact” in San Francisco — $4.9 billion, nearly $500 million of tax revenue and over 39,000 jobs — was at “at risk” as the appeal of hosting events at Moscone Center declined.

Event sponsors were already opting for cities such as Las Vegas or San Diego. Just in 2019, 35 future events at Moscone were cancelled, with organizers citing San Francisco’s high costs, perceived lack of street cleanliness and potential safety issues as top reasons for their departure, according to the report.

“Visitors often express feeling insecure and perturbed, and this offset’s our city’s advantages , such as strong airport lift and international routes, cultural, entertainment and touristic opportunities and the overall appeal of San Francisco’s convention center,” the report says.

The Grand Jury recommended a number of actions The City should take to mitigate the risk of losing convention business at Moscone, including setting aside an additional $2.5 million in subsidies, assigning additional beat patrol officers to the four-block radius around the center during events and creating a task force to address event security and street cleanliness concerns.

However both the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed’s office have concluded none of those recommendations can be implemented at this time.

Supervisors passed a resolution on Dec. 15 that noted The City’s limitations around committing additional financial or law enforcement resources to Moscone Center because of the “fiscal uncertainty” resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board resolution also found there was no need to create a separate task force because “The City has already established an active relationship with various city departments and organizations that oversees event security and street management.”

Breed’s office also issued a response on Nov. 30, in which it concluded none of the recommendations would be implemented on the basis that none are “warranted or reasonable.”

The mayor’s office also noted fiscal uncertainty, existing relationships between relevant stakeholders and limited staffing capacity at the police department as reasons the Grand Jury’s suggestions are not feasible.

City officials “partially” disagreed with the Grand Jury’s assessment that high costs, potential security concerns and street cleanliness detract from The City’s overall appeal as a convention site because “conventioneers consider a variety of factors to determine the value of hosting events in The City.”

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