SFExaminer Editorial: Moscone Center must remain competitive 

Because the $8 billion annual tourism industry is San Francisco’s biggest moneymaker — with high-spending conventions bringing one-third of our visitors — it is a vital business investment to keep our convention facilities on par with the competition. This is especially true for the 964,000-square-foot Moscone Center, which brings the Bay Area some of the nation’s most prestigious and lucrative conventions.

San Francisco’s close links to the Silicon Valley and its still-magnetic reputation as a beautiful and fun destination made Moscone a natural front-runner for the West’s biggest high-tech events — Oracle OpenWorld, MacWorld, etc. But now newer, larger and better-equipped facilities — including a just-opened $800 million convention center in Phoenix — are offering aggressive bargains and luring conventions away from The City.

San Francisco’s tourism-associated businesses experienced a dismal 2009 and this year isn’t looking much better. Moscone Center’s original exhibition building is 39 years old. Unquestionably it makes good economic sense to update this increasingly outdated facility into the 21st century and keep it there — despite City Hall’s daunting budgetary problems.

It’s a refreshing change that a mechanism is already in place for long-term funding flow to keep Moscone Center competitive with its rivals. When it became obvious several years ago that Moscone was falling behind, hoteliers agreed in 2008 to create a rourism improvement district levying 1 to 1.5 percent in new taxes on hotel visits. These funds pay for improvements to Moscone Center and marketing The City as a visitor attraction. At the same time, city lawmakers passed a bond issue for tourism industry support.

From these two sources, the Moscone Center upgrade receives some $70 million. The first five-year phase will install numerous much-needed enhancements to the existing buildings, some of which even lack sufficient power outlets for today’s high-tech exhibitors.

Convention spaces will receive modernized lighting, heating, air-conditioning, audio-visual capability and movable wall dividers. Cosmetic improvements start with new carpeting and repainting. The electronic updates feature full Wi-Fi accessibility, many additional computer plug-ins and a digital display network. Some improvements could be completed within two years

Moscone officials and engineering consultants are currently making a 120-day analysis to lay out a timeline for the full expansion project. A top goal for the second five-year phase is to massively expand the tunnel beneath Howard Street connecting the two exhibition venues. This could add more space and create one huge convention room by the second half of this decade.

This ambitious effort is what was needed to protect San Francisco’s vital tourism engine. Moscone Center must be brought to contemporary convention hosting standards — and just as importantly, Moscone is too important to San Francisco’s well-being to be allowed to fall behind again.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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