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06.29.2012
Conference Call
SOM and Mark Cavagnero Associates team up to transform San Francisco's Moscone Center.
Courtesy Moscone Center

A decade after its last major expansion, San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center is planning to enlarge its space by adding 250,000 to 400,000 square feet to its current 1 million square feet. Helming the potential additions and reconfigurations is the joint team of SOM and Mark Cavagnero Associates. They beat out a slew of contenders, including AECOM, Gensler, and HOK, who designed the original center in 1981.

As part of developing a 25-year-old master plan, the firms are designing a new identity around “an iconic architectural presence for Moscone,” said SOM’s Craig Hartman. “The Yerba Buena neighborhood has become a cultural and commercial hub, so it’s important that convention center also live up to 21st century expectations of what the city should be.”

The expansion is spurred by client demand and competition posed by other cities adding to their convention capacities. “A lot of our regulars are growing and a lot of groups that would like to be in there that can’t fit,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, a private nonprofit representing the city’s tourist industry, which is driving the expansion.

While the architects are in the preliminary stages of planning, the RFP outlines two new buildings and a major underground expansion. The new construction could include a sizeable addition to Moscone South, a six-story, 260,000 square-foot building along its Third Street frontage; Moscone East, a four-story, 240,000 square-foot building that would take place of the current Moscone Center garage on the other side of Third Street and connect underground with the existing center; and a Howard Street Connection, a 11,000 square-foot underground facility between Moscone North and South. The last major expansion was Moscone West, completed in 2003.

The final budget will depend on the solutions proposed by the architects, but will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Funding will be supplied through a public-private partnership with the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District (TID) and the city of San Francisco. Established in 2009, the TID levies a tax of 1 to 1.5 percent on hotel room revenue to capture revenue for future projects.

In addition to growing in size, the architects hope to tie Moscone’s blank perimeters into the South of Market cityscape.  “Right now, Moscone is like an idiosyncratic uncle that you have to deal with—there are some difficulties involved. Like most convention centers, it’s a blank box and very internalized,” added Hartman. “We have the opportunity here to really engage urbanistically. There’s a great opportunity along Third and Fourth Streets to remove the service ramps and exit ways and turn them into active street fronts.”

The jigsaw puzzle is not only spatial, but logistical. “The most challenging aspect is to give them that beautifully designed iconic building while finding a way to keep the convention center operational during all the phases of construction,” said Mark Cavagnero. The intent is for each firm to lead the design of one major building after the initial design stage. Completion of the first phase of construction is anticipated for 2017-2018.

Lydia Lee