During the month of February alone, 13 custom color schemes were drawn up to project on New York’s 103-story Empire State Building.
On February 9, they went with red, white, and blue to honor American athletes competing in the Winter Olympics. On February 21, it was dark with a rotating orange halo in sympathy for the school-shooting victims in Parkland, Florida.
Impressed officials with the San Diego Convention Center Corporation have decided to go all-in with the same LED technology, and it was put on full display February 22 at a ceremony to mark the grand re-opening of the center’s 90,000 square-feet Sail Pavilion.
Officials say renovating the pavilion and lighting up the sail — made up of 20 giant pieces of stitched-together, teflon-coated, fiberglass fabric in the middle of the nautical-themed convention center — will amplify the San Diego skyline and add flourish to the 30-year-old structure.
With a Fox 5 drone overhead to capture the scene, the sail scrolled through several solid colors while triumphant-sounding music played, and the “oohs” and “ahhs” may have given way to a snicker or two when the display ended with a whimsical checkerboard of bright colors.
“Looks like a circus tent,” an attendee playfully quipped.
While no one’s comparing the convention center to the Empire State Building, the lighting capability is another amenity to offer groups that use it and part of a strategy that includes a tax increase on hotel rooms to pay for a facility expansion. A coalition of supporters is now collecting signatures to place the measure on the ballot this November, said Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, the convention center’s president and CEO.
Renovating the pavilion cost $16.7 million and required the removal of 32 tons of support material and 2400 tons of concrete. No group was forced to cancel a meeting on account of the year-long project, Rippetoe said.
“After 30 years of a little wear-and-tear, it was time for a serious upgrade,” mayor Kevin Faulconer said to a crowd of industry officials and employees.
Without upgrades, Faulconer said, San Diego risks losing business to cities eager to take a larger share of the convention pie. “We want to do everything we can to get those dollars. We don’t want to lose a single dollar to somebody else. That’s how we roll."
Faulconer also made a pitch for the hotel-tax increase, calling it “the most important issue on the ballot this November” and pledged his “full, 100 percent support.” If passed, he said the measure would fund homeless services and street repairs in addition to the convention-center expansion.
Critics — like the Reader’s Don Bauder — have questioned the need for an expansion, given studies that show the growth of such facilities is outpacing any increase in demand. During a reception after the presentation, Rippetoe said while that may be true nationally, San Diego is bucking that trend.
“If you took all available convention space in the country, add it all up, then add up all the shows and the square footage they take — at that level, it looks like we have more space than we have shows,” according to Rippetoe. “Using assumptions from [the national accounting firm] PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a facility at 60 percent occupancy is considered functionally full; the national average is 53 percent. We closed  at 76 percent, so we know we need additional space.”
Funds for the Sail Pavilion came from a $25.5 million loan from the state Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank.