The nearly deserted San Diego Convention Center in March. Courtesy of the convention center

The San Diego Convention Center will reopen for events on Aug. 1, following more than 15 months of serving as an emergency shelter for homeless San Diegans and as a housing facility for unaccompanied children asylum seekers, officials said Wednesday.

The first event to return to the facility is SPIE Optics + Photonics, a meeting that showcases light-based technologies, scheduled for Aug. 1-5.

“California’s high vaccination rates have paved the way for the safe return of meetings and conventions to San Diego,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “I join our tourism and hospitality industry in extending a warm welcome to event attendees coming to San Diego this year, along with heartfelt thanks to the San Diego Convention Center staff and community partners for their adaptability during our region’s pandemic response.”

The return follows a shutdown of public gatherings that began with COVID-19 state and county health orders in March 2020. More than 150 convention center events were canceled, postponed or turned virtual. According to the convention center’s estimates, those lost events would have produced an estimated economic impact of $2.3 billion and an estimated $50 million in tax revenue for San Diego.

The center has 30 events already scheduled between August and December, including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ 2021 annual meeting (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting (Oct. 8-12) and Comic-Con: Special Edition (Nov. 26-28).

All events will follow California Department of Public Health guidance. Until Oct. 1, people participating in indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 attendees will need to be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test result conducted within 72 hours of the event.

“Following a challenging and deeply meaningful year, we’re thrilled to return to our primary purpose as an economic driver for San Diego,” said Rip Rippetoe, convention center president and CEO.

“We’re confident we’ll have one of the safest and cleanest venues in the nation when we reopen,” he said. “Based on the demand we’re continuing to see for events in the next 5-10 years, we’re equally confident in the long-term outlook for our industry, especially in beautiful San Diego.”

The first 2021 event, SPIE Optics + Photonics, will provide opportunities for both in-person and remote participation. The CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, said he was looking forward to welcoming its community of engineers, scientists, researchers, students and exhibitors to San Diego.

“Together with the San Diego Convention Center team, we’re committed to providing a healthy and comfortable experience for all of our exhibitors and attendees,” CEO Kent Rochford said. “After more than a year of virtual meetings and online networking, we know how excited everyone is to see one another and return to San Diego, the city where our society has been meeting for over 30 years.”

The second event to take place at SDCC this summer is American Kennel Club’s Meet the Breeds on Aug. 14-15. The event is touted as America’s largest in-person dog breed educational showcase and is a public event offering dog breeding fans the opportunity to meet and play with more than 100 different breeds.

“San Diego is known for its long-standing, dog-friendly community of beaches, hiking trails, patio dining, and the Padres’ Petco Park,” said Dennis Sprung, AKC president and CEO. “It’s a perfect place to launch our first-ever AKC Meet the Breeds National Tour.”

Though SDCC was unable to fulfill its primary purpose during the COVID- 19 closures, the facility served as a homeless shelter for 11 months in support of Operation Shelter to Home and as a federal emergency intake site for unaccompanied children seeking asylum for nearly four months. Last November, it also served as a physically distanced polling location for the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

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