by Deanna Ting | December 01, 2012
The City by the Bay is more meetings friendly than ever
In San Francisco, there's a complex balance of new and old, cutting edge and historic. Here, iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge stand side by side with the new, like the ultramodern DeYoung Museum at Golden Gate Park. That same ever-evolving dynamic between old and new applies to the city's meetings industry, too.

Take, for example, the newly renovated Moscone Center. Following a two-year, $56-million overhaul of its North and South buildings, the heart of San Francisco's convention business completed its renovation this June. With the new renovations, designers sought to "bring San Francisco inside" through branding, graphics, and colors, as well as installing a $4.5-million wireless system that provides high-speed Internet to as many as 60,000 devices at one time. In total, including the Moscone West building, the center now offers 1.2 million square feet of function space.

"In its previous state, Moscone Center gave meeting attendees very little sense that they were in San Francisco," explains Dean Kelleher, chairman of the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District, one of the organizations that funded the renovations. "A major part of this renovation was incorporating recognizable colors like the Golden Gate Bridge's 'international orange' and integrating the city's iconic images into the buildings' public spaces and meeting rooms."

Other upgrades to the center include new carpeting; paint; lighting; ceilings; restroom renovations; upgraded lobbies and kitchens; as well as major upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; elevators and escalators; and telecommunications and data cabling systems.

Meeting attendees who converge on the Moscone Center will also be able to use an innovative Google Maps feature called My Location on their Android smartphone devices. This tool lets users see their location within the center in detail, and allows them to easily navigate the convention center to find meeting rooms, food service kiosks, restrooms, and more, all from their smartphones.

The convention center is now a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold-certified building. "Moscone Center is a vital hub for our convention and tourism economy, and we are very proud to have the first convention center on the West Coast to earn LEED Gold for an existing building," says San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee. The Moscone South building opened in 1981, and the North building opened in 1992.

"We're really excited about having this," adds John Reyes, executive vice president and chief customer officer, convention sales and services, for San Francisco Travel Association, the city's official tourism and marketing organization. "It's so timely that the Moscone Center is now LEED Gold-certified, especially since the USGBC held its Greenbuild International Conference & Expo at Moscone Center in November. There are a lot of brand-new convention centers that get LEED Gold certification, but it's rare to see this for an existing building," Reyes adds. "This green aspect has really been brought up to date, and we know it is something that's important to planners."

As part of its new LEED Gold certification, Moscone Center has reduced its water consumption and has optimized its energy performance to exceed its former usage by 20 percent. At least 50 percent of the center's existing roof is now covered by photovoltaic solar panels, greenscaping, or park area. The center also has adopted sustainable practices that include green conference attendee and exhibitor guidelines, green purchasing, and green vendor agreements. And, in keeping with the farm-to-table food movement that the Bay Area is credited with starting 20 years ago - with Alice Waters' groundbreaking restaurant Chez Panisse, in nearby Berkeley, CA - the Moscone Center will have organic or locally produced food and beverages, all from within a 100-mile radius of the convention center.

Thinking Big
LEED Gold certification is just the beginning for Moscone Center. In September, San Francisco Travel Association President Joe D'Alessandro released details regarding the mayor's 25-year master plan to eventually expand the Moscone Center and bring more MICE business to the city.

While the center is the 25th largest convention center in the U.S., it generates the most money per square foot, according to the San Francisco Travel Association. Tourism officials are eager to add more space to accommodate larger meetings and conventions from around the world.

In total, tourism, the city's largest industry, generates more than $8 billion annually and city officials and tourism organizations have made it a top priority going forward. "You get the best of the best here in terms of tourism and hospitality," says Reyes.

The new Moscone Center expansion measures, to be initiated over the next five years and priced at $500 million, include adding 100,000 square feet to Moscone's two subterranean exhibitor halls, and adding another 100,000 square feet of space atop the existing North and South buildings, to be connected with a walkway. The newly expanded center could potentially coincide with the proposed opening of a new waterfront arena for the Golden State Warriors, creating even more event space. The project also aims to make the Moscone Center more pedestrian-friendly for attendees.

These are just a few of the new developments in store for San Francisco, says Reyes. "There are a lot of things happening here that say, 'you need to look at us.'"