From The San Diego Union-Tribune
:Convention Center expansion to include rooftop parkGround floor exhibit hall likely to reduce $710 million cost and increase efficiency, financing still being studied
By Roger Showley
Originally published November 9, 2010 at 11:05 a.m., updated November 10, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.
A five-acre rooftop park, truck tunnel for exhibitors and 500-room hotel built on top of a nearby parking garage wowed officials yesterday as they announced the lead architect on the long-awaited San Diego Convention Center expansion, projected for completion in five years.
Officials said they also liked the design because it may result in a much cheaper cost than the original estimate of $752 million, in addition lower operating costs oiver time.
Denver architect Curtis Fentress, who was appointed unanimously by the convention center board, said the design would make San Diego’s expanded 750,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a third bigger than the present configuration, the largest on the west coast.
Carol Wallace, president of the San Diego Convention Center, called the design “functional, flexible and efficient” and has begun sharing it with convention planners. The financing is expected to be worked out next year.
No one called it San Diego’s “Jolly Green Giant,” but that moniker might fit what would be a 3.5-million-square-foot facility outfitted with environmentally “green” features — from the park to gray-water processing to photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. City and convention officials hope the project will earn a “LEED Gold” rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.
However, financing without resorting to a tax increase or requiring voter approval is problematic. As much as $53 million in annual bond payments was earlier projected to cover the original budget for the expansion and a second pedestrian bridge to the Gaslamp Quarter. Steve Cushman, currently a port commissioner and unpaid mayoral representative on the project, said he hopes the financing plan will be ready in the first quarter of next year.
Fentress, who heads a 140-person firm that designed the Denver convention center and is working on the Los Angeles airport international terminal, said he got the idea for a park from attending public meetings earlier this year.
“We don’t want a building, we want open space,” Fentress said was the public’s message. “So we said how can we give them what they want and solve the issues of the convention center at the same time.”
For now, officials were ebullient in their praise for the Fentress design, with some calling it “fantastic” and better than expected.
“It’s going to be an iconic structure on our waterfront,” said San Diego Councilman Kevin Faulconer, whose district includes the downtown area.
The expansion will now undergo an environmental review that officials hope will win California Coastal Commission approval in 2012 so the 24 months of construction can begin in 2013. Since early last year, officials have been studying ways to expand the center to accommodate San Diego’s Comic-Con and other conventions quickly outgrowing the 2.6-million-square-foot center that opened in 1989 and was last expanded in 2001.
Mayor Jerry Sanders lauded the design as embracing the waterfront as the existing center has failed to do in its 21-year history. He also promoted the project for its job-generation capacity and tax-revenue implications — as many as 6,700 more jobs and as much as $17 million in additional sales and hotel taxes for the city’s general fund from more convention-related business.
“The convention center continues to be one of San Diego’s strongest assets driving jobs, tax revenues and economic benefits, all of which will significantly increase when the building expands, and Fentress’ design will take us there,” Sanders said at a noon press conference.
As designed, the expansion might cost significantly less than original estimate, because Fentress managed to place 225,000 square feet of additional exhibit space on the ground floor, adjacent to Hall H and other parts of the 2001 expansion. The other four architects bidding for the design commission located exhibit space in a second level — an approach that would have required more space, freight elevators, escalators and staircases.
The design is only preliminary and will undergo refinement in the months ahead, officials said. The public can get a look at the designs and recommend changes at two meetings at the convention center -- 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 18 and 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 20.
The overall addition would add 870,000 square feet to the 2.6-million-square-foot center, 35 percent less than the earlier estimate of 1.2 million square feet. Fentress said he has not yet had time to calculate the cost savings but said 10 percent is possible, and Steve Cushman, a port commissioner and unpaid assistant to Sanders on the project, said he hopes the cost will be even less.
Sanders said that unlike the Chargers stadium, he does not plan to ask for voter approval, so long as tax increases and general funds are not involved. Funding ideas have included downtown business assessments; taxi and rental car surcharges; and redevelopment property tax receipts. The Chargers also are eyeing redevelopment funds to provide up to $500 million in public subsidies.
Fentress was a latecomer to the project designer selection process, having replaced Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to become the fifth bidding firm. He partnered with John Portman & Associates, designer of the Hilton Bayfront next to the center and responsible for the 500-room hotel component. The Fentress team proposes to place the roughly 20-story hotel on top of the parking garage next to the Hilton, or adjacent to the center — the location the other four teams favored.
Civitas, also of Denver, is the land planner and landscape architect on the project with prime responsibility for designing the rooftop park. Headed by Mark Johnson, Civitas also is designing the $28 million first phase of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan and the Plaza de Panama conversion to pedestrian-only use in Balboa Park.
Fentress said he will add a local architect to his team shortly, probably drawing on one of the firms that partnered with the other design finalists.
Project manager Charles Black, who also was involved in the Petco Park development with the San Diego Padres in the last decade, said one benefit of the expansion will be the replacement of the dreary waterfront access road on Convention Way with landscaping and truck-free access to the bay. He called the present conditions hardly more than “paving, parking and trucks.”
He also said about 30,000 square feet of retail space will face the waterfront and ought to give visitors additional reasons to visit the little-used South Embarcadero, hidden as it is by the convention center and hotels.
The following is is the earlier version of the story:
The San Diego Convention Center would draw picknickers, concert goers and green space lovers - as well as thousands of more convention goers -- under a design released yesterday by the newly named architect for the long-planned expansion of the 21-year-old facility.
Fentress Architects of Denver, a late entry into the design selection competition, won the bid Tuesday to design the third phase of the San Diego Convention Center by proposing a smaller, more efficient plan that includes a 5-acre rooftop park.
The company teamed with Civitas, also of Denver, and John Portman and Associates, to beat out four other teams by locating 225,000 square feet of additional exhibition space on the ground floor and contiguous to Hall H and other space in the existing center facility, located at the foot of Park Boulevard south of the Gaslamp Quarter on the South Embarcadero waterfront.
"We're delighted we have the job and will coming through to the finish line," Curtis Fentress, the firm's founder, told the convention center board. Fentress previously designed the first and second phases of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and several others in Palm Springs, Pasadena, New Mexico and Utah.
He said he will pick a local architectural firm to help design the project and shepherd it through the approval process. He said he also may establish a local office, since the closest is in Santa Monica for his 140-member firm.
Portman designed the Hilton Bayfront hotel, located next to the convention center, and Civitas, a landscape architecture and land-use firm, currently is working on the first phase of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan and the conversion of the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park into pedestrian-only use.
Mayor Jerry Sanders endorsed the project at noon press conference for "enhancing the waterfront" and serving as an economic generator that could increase sales and hotel tax revenues by $17 million annually and result in nearly 6,900 permanent jobs from increased tourist and convention business.
Officials said the project will undergo environmental review next year with the goal to get California Coastal Commission signoff in 2012 and construction over a 24-month period starting in 2013. That would put the opening in 2015.
Carol Wallace, the convention center president, said she already has begun sharing the design with convention planners, touting it as "functional, flexible and efficient."
Project manager Charles Black, who also was involved in the Petco Park development with the San Diego Padres in the last decade, said one benefit of the expansion will be replacement of the dreary waterfront access road on Convention Road with landscaping and truck-free access to the bay. He called the present conditions hardly more than "paving, parking and trucks."
He also said about 30,000 square feet of retail space will face the waterfront and the addition will set back 90 feet from the water's edge.
Fentress said by locating the new exhibition space on the ground floor, additional freight elevators and stairways will be unnecessary and the overall cost, earlier estimated at $710 million, might drop by 10 percent or more.
"We tried to reduce the mass and height and not to take up as much of the waterfront," he said.
The addition was originally estimated at 1.2 million square feet, but Fentress his team was able to reduce it to only 780,000 square feet, a step that promises to cut operating as well as construction costs and make the building more usable for exhibitors and comfortable to conventioneers who won't have to go up and down steps, escalators and elevators between exhibit halls.
Steve Cushman, a member of the San Diego Unified Port District board and unpaid assistant to the mayor on the convention center project, said a financing group hopes the overall cost will, come down even lower. A financing plan, not expected until the first few months of 2011, is likely to contain an "amalgam" of financing tools, which in earlier analyses have included special taxes on downtown businesses, Cushman said.
He also broached the idea that downtown redevelopment property taxes might be tapped, now that the cap on redevelopment spending has been lifted through state legislation. That pot of money, estimated at about $2 billion, also is being eyed as a source for some or all of the $500 million the Chargers are seeking in public subsidies of their proposed downtown stadium.
However, unlike the stadium, the mayor said he does not plan on asking for voter approval so long as no general fund revenues are needed to build the convention center addition.
Fentress was a late addition to the architectural competition, when it supplanted Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who dropped out in August. Fentress ranked sixth out of 13 firms invited to submit their qualifications. Each finalist received $10,000 to help defer costs.
Each proposed a "green" element in their plan, but only Fentress proposed a large public park on the roof that could be divided into segments for special events and used for convention delegates. However, the firm did not propose a radical alteration to the 21-year-old facility that has been criticized for years for, along with hotels, walling off the waterfront.
Instead, Fentress believes the new park, if programmed with many events throughout the year, would draw people to the waterfront.
Also unique to his design was the proposal to locate a 500-room hotel on top of the parking garage adjacent to the Hilton Bayfront hotel south of the Park Boulevard/Eighth Avenue entrance to South Embarcadero Park where San Diego Pops concerts take place each summer.
He said the garage could be beefed up structurally to handle about 20 floors of hotel rooms. The design was engineered by Fentress' Portman partner, which has long been involved in hotel developments, especially those with soaring atriums favored by that firm's founder, John Portman.
The port district is responsible for the hotel project and is expected to entertain various developers and hotel chains to submit proposals next year.Proposed timeline2010-11
: Environmental impact report, port master plan amendment and coastal development permit prepared; financing plan approved.2012
: Plan considered by California Coastal Commission; completion of detailed design drawings.2013
: Construction begins.2015
: Expansion space opens midyear, possibly in time for Comic-Con International.By the numbersOverall size
: Currently 2.6 million square feet, adding 780,000 square feetExhibit space
: Currently 525,701 square feet, adding 225,000 square feetMeeting space
: Currently 205,114 square feet, adding 101,000 square feetBallrooms
: Currently 80,000 square feet in two ballrooms, adding one new ballroom at 80,000 square feetCost
: $710 million, plus $42 million pedestrian bridge original estimate; revised cost yet to be determined but could be 10 percent or more cheaper since the expansion is 35 percent less than planned. $53 million in annual bond costs under the original cost analysis, probably less depending on overall expense.Revenue sources under consideration
: Downtown business assessments; parking, taxi and rental car surcharges; downtown property taxes.