SAN DIEGO, CA — If your city doesn’t have something akin to Disneyland, the White House, or the Las Vegas “Glitter Gulch,” a convention center is most likely its biggest draw for out-of-towners.

Of the top-10 cities in the United States, all have convention centers. And all but two are either expanding or have expanded their facilities within the last five years.

The convention industry is booming, and that means plenty of high-profile, high-end business for hvacr contractors who position themselves as ready, willing, and able to take on large-scale projects, and who can manage it properly.

Like a dozen other convention centers nationwide, the San Diego, CA, facility is currently undergoing expansion to accommodate the meeting and exhibition boom.

When completed next fall, its interior space will double to 1.1 million-plus sq ft, making it the 20th largest exhibit hall in the country. An initial stage of the expansion, completed in May, entailed the enclosure of a 90,000-sq-ft sales area that previously was an open-air pavilion.

“San Diego very, very rarely has rain,” says Carol Wallace, president of the San Diego Convention Center Corp.; “but in case of rain, this area can now be used year round.”

Convention Centers Generate Big Bucks

“Competition between convention cities is fierce,” says Wallace. “The expansion raises San Diego’s profile to a first-tier convention city. It allows us to accommodate larger, high-end shows, as well as events that have outgrown the current facility.”

According to Wallace, the expansion’s economic impact will be $1.5 billion annually and the creation of some 16,000 jobs for the region.

Helping to make this $216 million expansion possible is senior project manager Dave Erne of Southland Industries, the Irvine, CA-headquartered firm responsible for all of the hvac work.

Groundbreaking took place in June 1998, and active construction commenced in August that same year.

“Southland began work on the project in December of 1998,” says Erne, who is pushing toward a May 2001 completion date for the hvac installation. The entire facility is scheduled for a September 2001 opening.

Erne says that “Coordinating Southland’s work with that of the other crafts” has been one of his greatest challenges — that and “lifting 28 air-handling units to the low roof with a 300-ton crane.”

Ron Rudolph, project manager with Turner Construction, the general contractor, says the project is “currently about 65% complete. We just finished erecting the steel structure and we’re beginning the exterior.”

“There were no unusual design aspects,” says Erne. “At least not as far as the hvac goes. That’s all pretty much a straight hvac design. Typical for a convention center.”

4,000-plus New Rooms

“As of our last count, there are just over 4,000 hotel rooms in the development process,” says Donna Alm of the Center City Development Corp. “And they’re all within a mile of the convention center.”

The scope of the projects ranges from Manchester Resorts’ 45-story, 1,200-room waterfront hotel to the 18-story, 245-room luxury W Hotel, scheduled to break ground at the end of this year. Other well-known hotel chains with San Diego building fever are Marriott, AmeriSuites, Le Meridien, Hampton Inn, Westin, and Hilton (see sidebar).

Add to this the construction of retail stores, restaurants, condominiums, and a 42,000-seat ballpark to open in the spring of 2002, and what this shows is a whole lot of optimism.

Convention centers require a great outlay of capital, but they have the potential for generating a great deal of revenue for the host city. San Diego is banking on the convention boom continuing, and hopes its $216 million will be well spent.

Sidebar: Safety Features Are Part of the Plan

“My biggest challenge was the smoke control system,” says senior project manager Glenn Abbate of his work for Helm Corp., the hvac contractor for the Hilton that opened in May in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

The $27 million, 253-room hotel is just one of more than a dozen that have already opened or are in some stage of construction within a mile of the city’s convention center.

“Any building over seven floors must now have a smoke control system,” Abbate continues. “This is fairly new to the industry. There are only two other buildings in the San Diego area that I know of that have had to comply with this new code.

“The challenge for me was making sure we did what the city was shooting for. This involved elaborate coordination between the trades, the designer of the system, the owner, and a consultant that the owner is required to hire.”

This fire/smoke control system, Abbate says, pressurizes corridors and stairwells so fire can’t enter them. “This means you can come out of your room into a smoke-free environment and pass safely to an exit. The system kicks in immediately upon smoke detection.

“There’s a main panel where firefighters can control which dampers and fans are open or closed. This makes me feel good about staying at a high-rise hotel, knowing that I’d be able to get out in the event of a fire.”

Pat Stark, senior project manager for general contractor Roel Construction, says the mixed-use nature of the hotel and the adjacent four-story retail/office component was “an unusual aspect of the project, especially as the two structures were built over a common parking structure.”

“Restoration of the historic façade of the retail building was the most unusual — and interesting — design feature,” says Stark. “I enjoy working on projects that retain some of the old along with the new.”

Sidebar: Facts, Figures, and Equipment

The San Diego Convention Center project:

  • Located on 11 acres on the San Diego Bay
  • Turner Construction, general contractor
  • Southland Industries, hvac contractor
  • 557,319 sq ft current interior space
  • 1,104,309 sq ft after expansion (50% increase)
  • 249,338 sq ft of current exhibit space
  • 615,701 sq ft after expansion (60% increase)
  • $216 million overall cost of building and grounds
  • $10 million cost of hvac components
  • Two centrifugal chillers totaling 2,200 tons
  • One air-cooled chiller totaling 200 tons
  • Two hot-water boilers totaling 8,000 MBtuh output
  • 10 pumps ranging from 30 to 250 hp
  • 40 air-handling units
  • 40 package unit fancoils averaging 2,000 cfm
  • 38 supply/exhaust fans
  • 12 kitchen fans
  • 401 terminal air units
  • 25 to 30 field sheet metal technicians during peak installation.
  • Publication date: 09/11/2000