OpenWorld has Moscone maxed out

Oracle's massive annual OpenWorld conference – expected to draw some 43,000 visitors and as much as $100 million to the Bay Area's economy this week – has outgrown San Francisco.

In fact, it has not only “absolutely maxed out” the 2-million-square-foot Moscone Center, but is using “every square inch” of other meeting space in The City, and may be forced to patronize another city if Moscone isn't expanded soon, said Leonard Hoops, executive vice-president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Oracle, based in Redwood City, has agreed to return to San Francisco in 2009 and is considering returning in 2010, said Hoops.

But the company “is, frankly, going way out of its way to be here,” Hoops said, because the space is much smaller and less comfortable than conference setups in cities like San Diego and Las Vegas.

To keep the conference, which started Sunday, The City has already shut down the section of Howard Street between Third and Fourth streets that separates the two halves of the Moscone Center. But with the conference growing at least 5 percent a year, it's not clear how much longer Oracle will squeeze in. Unless a physical expansion plan for the Moscone Center hits the pipeline soon, the mega-convention and others like it will move elsewhere in the next few years, Hoops said.

A taskforce is expected to produce recommendations in about six months on how to give convention-goers the elbowroom they need – and high on the list is likely to be expanding the Moscone's underground rooms, Hoops said. He said the taskforce is also in talks with building owners in the Moscone's vicinity about expanding outward.

It's also thinking about ways to fund the expansion: San Francisco hotels might agree to extra room taxes to help pay for expansion and promotion, which could bring millions in funding to the project, said San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President Steven Falk.

Conference-goer Christian Brouillet of Montreal, however, made it clear Sunday why Oracle and others have stuck it out so far.

“I just love this city,” he said. “And that's saying a lot, because I don't like many cities. But this one is an exception.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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