Webcor’s expansion of San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center will not only add more capacity, but also create jobs and use less energy and water than any other U.S. convention center.
By Bianca Herron
In an effort to stay competitive and attract the best events in the convention market, San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center – the city’s primary exhibition and meeting facility – is currently undergoing construction for a half-billion-dollar expansion.
“This is a huge project for the city of San Francisco because without this expansion, $200 million in economic activity will be lost every year,” says Thomas George, construction manager for Webcor Builders, the general contractor for the project. “We started construction fall 2014 and broke it into three phases because we couldn’t just close the convention center due to the high-volume amount of dollars it brings to the city.”
Currently, George and his team are in phase two of the project expansion. “The Moscone Convention Center is about 1 million square feet right now. When we’re done we’ll have added another 500,515 square feet,” he explains. “We basically have taken half the building down and we’re going to build it back up, finish it and gain a temporary certificate of occupancy [TCO]. After that we will then demo the next half of the building and complete the addition.”
Getting the TCO is most important, George notes, because it will keep the convention center open for business. “Moscone West will remain open and is fully booked, while Moscone North and South will be closed April through August of this year,” he says. “In the convention business, the Salesforce and Oracle shows are critical to San Francisco. Our main goal is to have the first new building open by September because right after our TCO day we have the Oracle convention. Nearly 60,000 people come to the city for that. The Salesforce convention is right after, and then we’re back at work for another year to complete the project before those shows come back to town again. So we’re under a lot of pressure to get this first building done and complete the entire project by the fall of 2018.”
Making It Happen
Because the center was originally built in the late ’70s and early ’80s, many unforeseen conditions have come up. “For example, we just went through one of the wettest months in San Francisco history, having 300 percent rain for the month of January,” George says. “We continue through a lot of mitigation efforts to get work put in place. The roof wasn’t on yet, so in the middle of this we were trying to put it on.”
The biggest challenge for construction, according to George, is keeping the center fully functional as it undergoes construction. “Four feet away from demolition and construction, depending on the convention, there are up to 40,000 people,” he explains. “So we have a massive amount of people in a tiny area, which is why scheduling is very important to ensure we are working on time and not endangering the public.”
Despite the challenges of the project, the expansion of the convention center will bring nothing but positivity to the city of San Francisco, according to George. “First, this project will provide over 940 permanent, new jobs, in addition to creating over 3,400 construction jobs through 2018.”
The expansion project will also feature pedestrian-friendly space, replacing 25,000 square feet of surface parking and exit ways and ramps. “The center will have wider sidewalks and reduced vehicle crossings will make the neighborhood safer and more walkable,” George says. “It will also have a new public pedestrian bridge, which will have a direct connection to the Children’s Garden, and make the 8,000 square feet of new public open space and cultural facilities easier to find and use.”
With over one million square feet of rooftop, the expanded Moscone Convention Center will save more than 5 million gallons of water annually. “By harvesting rainwater and diverting foundation water currently wasted into reclaimed storage water tanks, we will treat the water and provide water for the landscape at Yerba Buena Gardens, as well as the Children’s Garden and use it for cleaning the streets of San Francisco,” George says.
In addition, the expansion and improvement are designed to achieve LEED Platinum and will use less energy and water per person than any other U.S. convention center, George adds. “This is a Skidmore, Owings and Merrill-designed project, so the skin and structural steel on this job is pretty amazing,” he says. “We are using 100 percent recycled structural steel and its concrete will utilize recycled materials such as fly ash. Its high-performance structural enclosure is designed to minimize seismic damage. Also, its major public spaces will be flooded with natural light and a productive roof will harvest rainwater and solar energy, which will be one of the largest in San Francisco.”
Bill Wilson, Ross Edwards, Dave Boyd and Miller Ream founded Webcor in 1971 in San Mateo, Calif. Their goal was to not only build with innovation and efficiency in the Bay Area, but also be actively involved in each project. Today, the company has offices throughout the state of California in Alameda, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as in Hawaii. In addition, as the company has grown, George says it has prioritized safety and is trying to get its subcontractors to buy into its philosophy: “To care and share, and protect themselves.”
“Our company undertook this new safety culture in 2014 and it is our No. 1 priority,” George explains. “My job was one of the first in the company to start implementing the initiative, as we are a leader in the company for safety. We track near misses and safety issues through a mobile app. For example, if someone dropped a hammer off of a building it would be considered a near-miss. So our employees can type it in, hit send and it immediately goes to the superintendents and safety managers. We then talk about it and discuss solutions as to how to prevent it from happening again.”
That is why training is also an integral part of Webcor’s safety initiative. “We train for everything from management to union training, so our staff is constantly learning how to operate equipment and stay safe with OSHA training, for example,” George says. “Training field side is obviously for safety, but in-office training is for us to stay ahead of the curve. Like technology, things change constantly and are evolving. So this dictates how we interact in the industry, which is certainly changing. That’s why we do our best to try and stay on top of things.”
Building a Team
Webcor is also trying to build team relationships with subcontractors rather than dictator relationships, George notes. “We have thousands of subcontractors, but on this current project we brought in our bigger, core trades for steel, MEP and vertical transportation,” he says. “We brought them on board as partners and started developing the project together. We work with them on scheduling, sequencing and sit down as a group to discuss it, instead of me making a schedule and trying to drive it down everyone’s throat.”
In addition, George attributes much of Webcor’s success to its people, who are a huge part of its team, he notes. “I’ve been in the business almost 34 years. For the majority of that I’ve been a superintendent,” he says. “I have about eight superintendents, the majority of whom are younger. With these guys coming right out of college, they are bringing in fresh ideas and know all of the new technology that I am unaware of. So all of the new technology that we’re using on this project, like the near miss app and scheduling software, I probably would’ve never tried.
“It’s pretty interesting because it really works,” he concludes. “The young guys catch on quick and they all have laptops, iPads and smartphones. You don’t see as many drawings out in the field anymore because everyone is looking at them on their tech. There’s no time loss, so if someone generates an RFI and it’s answered, it’s immediately available. So our technology gives us instant access to valuable information, which makes our process more efficient and faster.”