San Francisco’'s landmark event space has a glittery new look, more space for meetings and expos, state-of-the-art amenities and a better connection with the surrounding neighborhood. Plus, it’s architecturally gorgeous, “an iconic structure that sits in the middle of the city like a jewel,” in the words of Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.
Renovated and expanded to the tune of $551 million, Moscone Center was under construction for more than four years, staying partially open and welcoming clients even as steel beams clanked and jackhammers roared. The project—half new-build, half renovation—came in on time and on budget, opening on Jan. 3 to oohs and aahs from both the public and meeting planners.
The reveal: 504,000 square feet of contiguous underground space linking formerly separate Moscone North and South and a new, above-ground structure holding 157,000 square feet of flexible meeting space with the ability to create 82 spaces of various sizes. That includes a 50,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom able to be divided into as many as 16 separate spaces, plus multiple outdoor terraces with city views, two pedestrian bridges across Howard Street (linking the North/South and West buildings), and acres of light-filled lobby and prefunction space.
The two main goals, says D’Alessandro, were to create contiguous space and flexibility in order to provide new opportunities for meetings and events.
“While those goals were geared toward staying competitive, San Francisco was not seeking to lure larger conventions or become one of the biggest centers in the nation,” he adds. “In pure size, we went from about the 25th largest convention center in the country to the 17th. We were never trying to be the largest, because that would never work here. We had to make the project fit the space and our brand. One of our goals was to be able to put groups in North and South that will free up West for other groups.”
In determining the need for expansion almost a decade ago, “We looked at alternatives,” D’Alessandro continues. “Should we move it? Look at something more remote from the downtown core? There wasn’t much space to grow around the building. We had to be very creative.”
After staging focus groups with customers around the country as well as with meeting planners and local residents, the consensus was clear, he says. “Our constituents wanted the convention center to be in the heart of the city within walking distance of most hotels, and with lots of off-site opportunities. They also wanted more exhibit space. So essentially, what we did was combine two buildings (Moscone North and South) into one.”
From an architectural standpoint, there was another goal: to connect the building with the city. “Back in the 1970s, Moscone was designed at a time when convention centers were more or less black boxes,” says Mark Schwettmann, director and studio head for SOM, the architectural firm behind the project. “We turned that inside out, trying hard to bring life and light to the main spaces. We wanted to transform the center to a place where visitors could connect with the city and locals could connect with the visitors. In the end, we have a civic statement that activity in this building is for everyone to see.”
Indeed, the transparent, glass-walled center glows bright at night, silhouetting all who are inside. Outside, sidewalks were widened, a terrace added to the front of the buildings, artworks installed, and a children’s playground added to the Children’s Creativity Museum complex in the Yerba Buena Gardens neighborhood adjacent to the center.
“There’s activity around all the time, so people feel safe,” says Lynn Farzaroli, senior director of the Moscone expansion for San Francisco Travel Association. “We had a lot of back-and-forth with the community and with meeting planners on that.”
By necessity, many of the city’s annual and rotational conventions went elsewhere during the construction phase. Still, Moscone West stayed open throughout the project. “The biggest challenge by far was noise during construction,” says Bob Sauter, general manager of the Moscone Center. “There were times when we wished we could have closed for a year. It was unprecedented to stay open during construction, a remarkable period of collaboration and a hard tightrope to walk. Admittedly, it wasn’t all holding hands and kumbaya; there were some tense moments.” To mediate conflict, the city hired a liaison to work between clients and construction teams.
Those struggles will yield a big payoff. The opening of the expanded center coincides with and contributes to the biggest visitor boom San Francisco has ever seen. “We have more group room nights on the books than we’ve ever had in San Francisco,” Farzaroli says, “and a million of those visitors will pass through Moscone.”
The first major expo held at the expanded center just two weeks after it opened was a huge success, she says. “The Fancy Food Show has been here since 1978, and the energy around it this year was entirely different; it was much more active and upbeat,” she says.
Among those looking forward to taking advantage of the expanded center is Bob Hope, director of convention and meetings for the American College of Surgeons, which will bring about 14,000 attendees to San Francisco in October. They’ll be spread out over about 30 hotels over the five days of the conference. Hope is especially pleased with the Moscone lobby expansion that allows registration to be conducted in one space, with plenty of check-in desks provided. That’s an amenity that’s likely to be useful, in light of the city’s popularity with Hope’s attendees. “We come to San Francisco every five years on a rotational basis,” Hope says, “and it has always been the favorite destination in terms of attendance numbers.”
Step Inside the Space
Contiguous space: 504,914 square feet (260,000 before expansion)
Have a ball: The new, 50,000- square-foot, column-free ballroom can be divided into as many as 16 meeting rooms.
Let there be light: 107,000 square feet of light-filled prefunction lobbies with city views
Breath of fresh air: 25,000 square feet of outdoor terraces with city views
Down to business: Capacity for up to 82 “black box” meeting rooms in Moscone North and South, plus 32 more in Moscone West
Get online: Robust wireless system allows the center to support as many as 60,000 devices at once.
Staff your booth: The largest exhibition space can accommodate 2,300 ten-foot-by10-foot booths.
Load it up: 20 loading docks with drive-on access to exhibit halls
Brand your meeting: Two giant display screens measuring 75-feetby-10-feet and 60-feet-by-10-feet in Moscone South, with additional 3-foot-by-10-foot screens wrapped around the building’s corners
Have a question? San Francisco Travel Association operates a visitor information center in Moscone South.
COLOR IT GREEN
LEED PLATINUM: The center is on track to receive the highest level of green building certification offered by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, making it one of only a handful of convention centers in North America to earn the distinction (others are in Pittsburgh, Vancouver, B.C. and Portland).
CARBON FOOTPRINT: Lowest carbon emissions per attendee of any convention center in North America
LET THE SUN SHINE: Largest solar panel array in San Francisco
NOTHING GOES TO WASTE: Recycling and composting facility-wide, plus 15 million gallons of water recovered annually for reuse in landscaping and street cleaning
After a long day of meetings at Moscone Center, it’s time for your attendees to take a break and have some let-your-hair-down fun. Here are five nearby unconventional options.
Grab a pingpong paddle and get a volley going, either among yourselves or with a pro. This playhouse adjacent to Moscone Center serves up delicious small plates and platters as well as table tennis. Party programs are offered for groups of 10 and more. Alternatively, SPIN can bring its tables, pros, ambassadors and energy to you, wherever the venue might be. wearespin.com, 415.636.5995
This permanent food truck installation in the up and coming Mission Bay neighborhood features 11 stationary and several rotating vendors serving everything from tacos to Korean-Filipino fusion food to crispy calamari. Beer and wine on tap, too. Private spaces for groups of 20-150 and more by reservation. sparksocialsf.com
Just across Third Street from SPARK Social, Stagecoach Greens is a festive, family-friendly space within Mission Bay’s new Parklab Gardens. Cabanas, picnic tables, food trucks and a bar are on-site, but the centerpiece is an innovative mini golf course themed to San Francisco history. Buyout and blend-in options are available. stagecoachgreens.com, 415.310.3246
Housed in a former mortuary, this 14-hole mini golf course garners smiles with its steampunk Rube Goldberg contraptions that put an antic creative twist on the game. There’s a full bar, with small plates available all day, and sit-down dinner served in an upstairs restaurant. Party packages for groups of 20-35 and buyouts for up to 150 guests are available. urbanputt.com, 415.341.1080
Taking over a century-old theater that once showcased legends like Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and the Grateful Dead, this innovative enterprise in the NoPa (North of Panhandle) neighborhood combines vintage arcade games (pinball, air hockey, Skee-Ball, foosball, shuffleboard and such) with live DJs, a full stage for live music, a 50-foot projection screen, full bars and other amenities. Table reservations available for groups under 40, with full or partial buyouts offered for as many as 800. All guests must be 21 or older. Make your own food arrangements; no eats are available on-site. emporiumsf.com, 628.867.7362
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Cultural venues near Moscone Center abound.
Looking for an off-site venue for a special presentation, dinner or reception? These cultural sites are all within just a block or two of the convention center.
SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
After a three-year closure, SF MOMA reopened in 2016 with an expansion designed to showcase its massive collection over seven floors of exhibition halls. Spaces available for private groups range from the main hall, which can accommodate large banquets and receptions, to a theater, sculpture terrace, rooftop pavilion and garden, and the “White Box,” a 3,000-square-foot blank slate of a room with theatrical lighting and capacity for up to 200 guests. sfmoma.org, 415.357.4000
CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM
Showcasing modern art seen through a Jewish lens, the CJM’s unique architecture fuses a 19th-century power station with a “blue cube” geometric superstructure. Event spaces include classrooms, halls and the dramatic, 2,500-square-foot Yud Gallery, with its 65-foot ceiling, 36 skylights, irregularly shaped walls and fine-tuned acoustics. Catering provided by the on-site Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. cmj.org, 415.655.7800
MUSEUM OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
A showcase for contemporary art created by people of African heritage from throughout the world, MOAD, which is located in the same building as the St. Regis Hotel, offers numerous possibilities for corporate events, product launches and receptions. The first-floor lobby accommodates up to 250 standing, 65 seated, while an upstairs salon can handle up to 80 seated. moadsf.org, 415.358.7200
Set to open next year, the 60,000-square-foot museum will be the downtown home of a world-class collection of more than 17,000 works of folk art, paintings and pieces in other media. mexicanmuseum.org, 415.202.9700
Four new public artworks are visible to passersby as well as convention attendees. One of the most stunning: “Point Cloud,” a computerprogrammed light installation by Leo Villareal, designer of the “Bay Lights” on the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge. It’s incorporated into the new East Bridge connecting Moscone North and South.
By the Numbers
$551 million cost of expansion and renovation
$272 million projected annual economic impact of expansion
20,000 hotel rooms within eight blocks, with several new hotels in the neighborhood coming online in 2019
20 acres on three blocks in the heart of San Francisco
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), MUNI municipal trains and buses— and, soon, a new Central Subway line running from the South Bay to Moscone and on to Chinatown. In addition, there are 5,000 parking spaces within walking distance of the center.