San Diego Convention Center Goes Big, Then Bigger

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The San Diego Convention Center at dusk
The San Diego Convention Center at dusk

If you were to ask Joe Terzi, San Diego Tourism Authority’s president and CEO, how San Diego’s seven distinct regions factor into meetings and events he’d likely say, “It’s a different experience every time.” For meeting planners with an experiential focus, this definitely has its perks. With the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Anza-Borrego Desert and Laguna Mountains to the east and Mexico to the south, it’s easy to see the possibilities.

But it’s not just San Diego’s stunning topography that’s luring MICE industry players—the city’s 2.6 million-sf mothership of a convention center will soon possess the largest single contiguous exhibit hall on the West Coast, employing nearly 7,000 San Diegans, while retaining powerhouse events like Comic Con that are outgrowing the building. Yes, San Diego may be California’s beautiful mistress, but it also means business.

“San Diego has hosted Comic Con for decades. It was important for us to keep growing with Comic Con—to keep this homegrown feeling strong throughout the area,” explained Margie Sitton, San Diego Tourism Authority’s senior VP of sales/services. Just in case keeping stride with Wonder Woman, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 wasn’t interesting enough, propelling this big city community vibe forward are a number of revamps along San Diego Bay that are set to energize the Embarcadero with music, art, food and plenty of shopportunities.

It all begins with Sky Park, a 5-acre waterfront park that will offer panoramic views of downtown, Coronado and San Diego Bay. A tree-lined promenade will link the Hilton San Diego Bayfront and South Embarcadero Park to 30,000 sf of retail shops, restaurants and a water transportation center.

“The Embarcadero is really the front door to the city and the first impression many visitors have of San Diego,” Margie said. “Sky Park will open up a whole new opportunity for meetings and events on that part of the bay, while giving visitors and locals a more tangible experience of the city.” Not that the center is in need of a little TLC. Currently, there are 70 large events scheduled in 2014 that are expected to draw close to 1 million out-of-town attendees, marking the highest attendance since 2008. The new revitalized spaces offer real potential to shift San Diego’s meeting/event paradigm, which according to Joe, has been dominated by the medical sector.

Meeting planners will find a price point for about every budget throughout San Diego. Scattered amidst the downtown Gaslamp scene and swanky North County resorts are 58,000 hotel rooms—135 conference and convention hotels are located in San Diego County with 11,000 first-class hotel rooms within walking distance to the convention center.

This latest San Diego Convention Center revamp is scheduled to break ground in 2015.

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