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The Moscone Expansion: A Chapter in History

The recently completed Moscone Expansion is just the latest example of how the convention center's evolution mirrors that of San Francisco itself.

As the largest convention center in the Bay Area, San Francisco’s Moscone Center has held some of the most important events in modern business and political history, including the Democratic National Convention in 1984, Google’s I/O from 2008-2015, and the announcement of the iPhone in 2007.

Opened in 1981, the Moscone Center was named for Mayor George Moscone after his tragic assassination beside City Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. Since then, the Moscone Center has not only provided top-tier event spaces for companies the world over, but has also been a significant source of revenue for the city.

“A lot of people don’t know that groups have to guarantee a minimum number of peak room nights,” says Moscone acting general manager Bob Sauter. “But it’s how the city ensures that each event is profitable,” he says.

Sauter says that this requirement has been no barrier to its popularity. “It’s one of the busiest convention centers in the country in terms of usage,” he says. Indeed, latest figures show that the venue sees more than a million visitors each year through its more than 700,000 square feet of exhibit space and 106 meeting rooms.

In its original state, the Moscone Center had about 300,000 square feet of space and was mostly underground. Sauter says it was designed this way to reduce its footprint and to allow it to occupy a location convenient for guests. “The most unique and advantageous thing about Moscone Center is its location,” he says.

In the 80s and 90s, medical shows were the center’s most frequent visitors. “Corporate and tech weren’t big in those days,” Sauter remarks. But that would soon change as Silicon Valley and San Francisco became centers of technological advancement. Google, Microsoft and Oracle held some of their biggest events at Moscone in the early 2000s.

The Moscone Center would change with the times as well, undergoing multiple expansions. The center added an additional 600,000 square feet in 1992 and 2003, respectively, and the latest expansions are giving it a “dramatic presence above-ground,” says Sauter.

This represents a changing attitude for the center’s operators. “The project has opened up the area between Moscone North and Moscone South to make one larger and far more contiguous setting,” he says. “It’s been our clients’ number-one request.”

The latest expansion for the Moscone center includes a new building on Third and Howard streets, as well as new art and areas to connect the previously-separate convention areas. “It really creates a Moscone Center as opposed to Moscone North or South,” Sauter says.

Despite the renovation efforts, the Moscone Center is as busy as ever, and Sauter says that in the past four years “we’ve been closed for maybe five months.”

“We’re setting up for Dreamforce right now,” he adds, referring to the annual official conference of Salesforce, the enterprise software giant, and its numerous partners and users. Salesforce is joined by Oracle and other major companies in returning to The Moscone Center again and again. “It’s a very busy convention center,” says Sauter.