San Francisco and the Bay Area Anticipate Event Uptick Following Moscone Center Expansion

December 19, 2018

Anticipation is high in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area as the city’s Moscone Center introduces its long-awaited $551 million expansion, with the official debut on Jan. 3, 2019.

According to Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, 2019 is the city’s busiest year in history in terms of group bookings at Moscone Center, which is comprised of 20 acres on three adjacent blocks downtown.

“The previous Moscone complex—North, South and West—was constantly being used and we determined there were some parts of it that were not as practical today than when it was built originally,” D’Alessandro said. “We wanted to accomplish two things—we wanted to make the building function better and to enlarge it to allow us to get business we couldn’t do, or do back-to-back groups. The plan all along was to make it as flexible as it possibly could be.”

On a recent pre-opening tour of the Moscone Center, which is aiming for LEED Platinum certification, I could already see the level of enhancements with regards to flexible new ballroom options, contiguous space and the ease of access between the North and South buildings.

“We did a lot of design elements,” D’Alessandro said. “We brought a lot more light to the building, elevated it up, have a lot of terraces.”

I was also shown where much of the new art at the Moscone Center will be located, which will be visible to neighbors and passersby as well as convention attendees.

“PointCloud,” for example, the latest light installation by Leo Villareal, designer of “The Bay Lights” on the Bay Bridge, has been incorporated into the new East Bridge, which connects Moscone North and South.

“When Moscone South was built, there wasn’t a lot of neighborhood there; there were service parking lots in a not very nice part of town, so it was built more like a fortress,” D’Alessandro said.

“So now that the neighborhood has grown up dramatically and there are five-star residential condo towers around there, some of the great art museums and cultural attractions in the city, we wanted to make sure the building was a better neighbor,” he added.

[Related Content: San Francisco’s Moscone Center Nearly Doubles in Size]

Enhancements geared toward its neighbors includes public access to the art, pedestrian bridges and more sidewalk space. The project also includes the relocation of the San Francisco Visitor Information Center staffed by San Francisco Travel, open to attendees and all visitors on the street level of Moscone South.

Though the expansion is headline news, other projects in the works include the new Chase Center in Mission Bay, upcoming home to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, on target to be finished by the 2019 season. The arena will be able to be broken down into smaller pieces for groups, and when complete, the new Central Subway will link Chase Center to Moscone and downtown.

Chase Center Rendering, San Francisco
Chase Center Rendering, San Francisco

Myriad hotels are undergoing renovations and there are a variety of new properties slated for next year, including the 194-room Virgin Hotels San Francisco and Hyatt Place in Mission Bay, scheduled to open in late January with 230 rooms.

Also in the news are headline culinary accolades, with two new Michelin three-star restaurants, bringing region’s three-star total to eight restaurants, more than any other region in North America.

Not all headlines have been positive. The long-anticipated Salesforce Transit Center and its Salesforce Park remain closed after a brief heralded debut.

The Transit Center is marred by structural issues that have kept that and the park closed, though recent problems are not as significant as originally feared, according to D’Alessandro.

[Featured Q&A: SF Travel CEO Speaks Out on Safety Concerns]

Last year also saw the cancelation of a major Chicago-based medical association convention due to safety concerns for attendees. Though homelessness and mental health issues on the streets are still major challenges, D’Alessandro has room for optimism with new Mayor London Breed.

“We’re feeling pretty encouraged with all the steps Mayor Breed has taken,” he said. “She’s only been in office a few months and she’s really prioritized making the street experience in San Francisco better.”

Greater San Francisco’s Oakland and Berkeley Host New Meetings Developments

Outside San Francisco, Oakland is an East Bay repository of art, culture, food and nightlife. It is also ramping up its meeting offerings, according to Rhanee Palma, vice president of sales and services for Visit Oakland.

“Right now, a lot of hotels are going through renovations, including the Waterfront Hotel, a boutique hotel with 156 rooms, good for smaller, regional meetings,” she said. “Target date is early 2019.”

Downtown Oakland, California
Downtown Oakland, California

A couple of other new hotels coming in will help with overflow, according to Palma: SpringHill Suites Oakland Airport with 136 rooms; and Hampton Inn Downtown Oakland with nearly 100 rooms slated for summer 2019.

“In the past two years, there has been a drastic change in markets coming to Oakland,” Palma said. “Two years ago, it was a lot of SMERF and a year ago considerable California associations and corporate. This year we’re getting a lot more national associations.”

[Related Content: San Francisco and Surrounds Brim With Flavorful Experiences]

Located in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills, Claremont Club & Spa, one of the East Bay’s mainstay properties, is undergoing renovations, including a refresh of its 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

It is also promoting its Adventures and Experiences teambuilding activities and events, including cooking classes and wellness activities.

Berkeley is also an East Bay draw for groups and will see its downtown hotel room rate boom in spring 2020 with the slated opening of a Residence Inn by Marriott with 334 rooms and 14,500 square feet of meeting space.

“It will be the first new hotel in more than 20 years in downtown Berkeley,” said Dan Marengo, communications director for Visit Berkeley.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Berkeley Marina also added to Berkeley’s group options with a new 2,700-square-foot ballroom.

San Francisco’s Concord and Tri-Valley Region Looks to Build Off Moscone Expansion

In Contra Costa County, Concord has a vibrant international cuisine and craft beer scene, according to Elaine Schroth, executive director of Visit Concord. Its Residual Sugar location at the new Veranda mixed-used development welcomes groups, as does the ice-skating rink there.

Residual Sugar, Concord, California
Residual Sugar, Concord, California

Meanwhile, the Tri-Valley region is enjoying record occupancy, ADR and RevPAR, according to Todd Dibs, director of sports development at Visit Tri-Valley.

“With the re-opening of Moscone Center, we anticipate a slight impact in demand (during larger convention weeks) due to our proximity to the BART Public Transit (especially in Pleasanton and Dublin),” Dibs said.

New properties include a proposed Autograph Marriott property in downtown Livermore. 

Silicon Valley Expects to Benefit From Increased Meetings Traffic

The Moscone Center addition will also be a boon to South San Francisco and Silicon Valley, according to Anne LeClair, president and CEO of the San Mateo County, Silicon Valley CVB.

“During the Moscone reconstruction, San Francisco was focused on self-contained meetings. Now those will look increasingly at us,” she said.

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New properties include the Grand Hyatt, coming to San Francisco International Airport in July 2019 with 351 rooms and 17,500 square feet of meeting space. Meanwhile, Residence Inn San Carlos-Redwood City opened in summer 2018 with 204 rooms and 1,500 square feet of meeting space.

Marin County Provides Outdoor Escapes for Groups

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County is a haven for outdoor adventure and artsy enclaves. The Marin CVB sees the Moscone Center opening as a potential boost for business, according to Christine M. Bohlke, sales and marketing director for the Marin CVB.

Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County
Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County

Hotels being updated include the Embassy Suites Hotel San Rafael, undergoing a multimillion-dollar upgrade; Courtyard by Marriott Novato, which recently completed a guest room renovation; and Courtyard by Marriott in Larkspur, which is undergoing a renovation slated for completion May 2019.

San Francisco and the Bay Area CVB Contact Information

Marin CVB

San Francisco Travel

San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB

Visit Berkeley

Visit Concord

Visit Oakland

Visit Tri-Valley CVB

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Marlene Goldman | Contributing Writer