City eyes Oyster Point for convention center 

A rebounding economy and the success of the South San Francisco Conference Center has the city looking at short- and long-term expansion, including a possible convention center on Oyster Point.

Business has been extremely good, with the center booking between 350 and 400 conferences a year, generating nearly $200,000 annually for the city, officials said. The center even has to turn away groups sometimes because of space issues with its 16,500 square feet of meeting space.

A new structure near the current conference center on South Airport Boulevard would help solve short-term problems, but a convention center would make use of Oyster Point’s central location, the surrounding biotechnology companies and the future ferry terminal, officials said.

In the short run, the South San Francisco Conference Center Authority, a group of city officials and citizens formed to oversee the center when it was built in 1993, has proposed a 4,000-square-foot structure adjacent to the current center expected to go before the city’s Design Review Board within the next month, said Sandra O’Toole, the conference center’s executive director.

The authority also wants to revisit a land-use study from last summer that identified three alternative uses of the 55 city-owned acres at the Oyster Point Marina to evaluate the potential for a convention center, O’Toole said.

"Ideally, it would be terrific," O’Toole said of a convention center at Oyster Point. The site could make excellent use of its location between San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport and the surrounding biotechnology companies on Oyster Point, she added.

The land-use study presented to the city last summer had three alternatives: maintaining it as public open space; low-profile office and hotel use; or mid-rise office and hotel buildings with retail and a convention center, said Marty Van Duyn, the assistant city manager. Prior uses of the land out there, such as the marina, which is leased and operated by the San Mateo County Harbor District, would be retained, Van Duyn said.

A recent survey done by AirPlus International, a global travel company, indicated that 61 percent of U.S. companies expected their employees to increase their business travel this year, a 10 percent increase over last year. San Francisco International Airport will also see a handful of new airlines begin service by the end of this year.

The San Mateo Event Center, after years of economic trouble, has seen improvement in the number of events it hosted after a three-year effort to reinvent the center as a regional locale for entertainment, corporate conferences and public events.

The conference center helps the city in two ways, because $2.50 of a traveler’s nightly hotel cost goes to the conference center and the city receives 9 percent of the nightly charge in a transit-occupancy tax, said Councilman Joe Fernekes, who also sits on the Conference Center Authority.

"There are good times to expand, and it was asked that we take a look at [expansion] again and see if the time was right," he said.

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