By Rip Rippetoe
When people ask me what we do at the San Diego Convention Center, I tell them this: we build a small city every week. These small cities become conventions, trade shows and events that are the biggest fundraisers for their associations.
From hematologists to neurosurgeons, from GIS mappers to chemists, they gather here in America’s Finest City to connect and learn inside a city within the city, with infrastructure, security, power, food and beverage, and most importantly, an energy that invokes creativity and life-changing breakthroughs.
For nearly 30 years, your San Diego Convention Center has been the first impression and experience for almost 23 million guests. This includes visitors from around the world, throughout the state and from across the street.
Our purpose is to be the premier gathering place that hosts trade shows, conventions and community events that economically benefit the San Diego region. Your convention center is different from every other venue because we are regarded as leaders in the convention and meetings industry. We’ve received top awards as a venue, for sustainability, innovation and most importantly as a destination.
Conventions and meetings are at the heart of an industry that is the third largest contributor to San Diego’s economy. Planners and attendees introduce new dollars and pay visitor taxes that benefit residents who live miles away from our building.
This focus on economic impact is not new. Generating economic benefits is at the core of our existence. This fiscal year’s activity is estimated to create $1.3 billion in regional impact, with $742.3 million in direct attendee spending — a record — and $29 million in hotel and sales tax revenue. In fact, since opening in November 1989, activity at your San Diego Convention Center has generated $564.1 million in hotel and sales tax revenue. This feeds a general fund contribution that paves neighborhood streets, provides for fire and police salaries, and pays for parks.
San Diegans built this facility 30 years ago and San Diegans keep it running 24 hours a day. We opened in 1989 after being financed completely by the Port of San Diego. A Phase II expansion was completed in 2001. The 2001 expansion was paid for by Prop A in 1998.
At the heart of your convention center is our team. This iconic building is the “office” for our staff, providing living wages for more than 400 full-time and part-time men and women who work for the convention center and our business partners. We’re your neighbors, living as far north as Carlsbad, east to Jamul, and even some members of our team cross the border.
In addition, it takes nearly 900 food and beverage workers, as well as our in-house partner telecom and audio-visual teams, to produce successful events. And we cannot forget the hundreds of men and women of our eight partner labor groups who assist us in the building of “small cities” each week.
We are the mothership to Comic-Con International and a key destination for major medical meetings, trade shows, conventions and community events. With the help of our partners at the San Diego Tourism Authority, we collaboratively market the destination to bring the events that fill the region’s hotels, restaurants and attractions with visitors from out-of-town.
We are a popular destination among the many event organizers in North America. San Diego is routinely considered a top-five destination for meetings. We were recently honored with the Gold Award for Best Convention Center in the Western United States by the 2018 Prevue Visionary Awards — in short, “Best of the West.”
There is much competition for these shows, and 24 other convention centers are currently expanding or have plans to add on. Based on this available information, additional space at the San Diego Convention Center could meet the global demand for convention center space and hotel accommodations.
The Phase III expansion plan, which was approved by the California Coastal Commission in 2013, would add more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit, meeting and ballroom space and include a five-acre rooftop park.
The plan was vetted during a thorough public process that addressed key issues such as open space, sustainability and accessibility. The initiative introduced recently and discussed at the City Council is about raising a tax that is paid for by visitors to fund this already approved expansion plan.
This citizen’s initiative is about funding for your convention center’s long-anticipated expansion.
I have said it before. I will say it again. I am proud to be the president and CEO of your San Diego Convention Center. It was my dream for many years to work at this venue. This is the pinnacle of my career, and I am excited about its future.
Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe is president & CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.
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