SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Construction has begun on the Moscone Center expansion that is expected to increase San Francisco's main convention center space to more than 1 million square feet. The goal is to finish it by fall 2018.
Joe D'Alessandro, President and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association told KTVU the plans include a pedestrian bridge over busy Howard Street that will have a light sculpture by Leo Villareal, the artist behind the Bay Lights sculpture on the Bay Bridge.
The city requires that 2 percent of the project budget be devoted to public art.
City officials say the $500 million Moscone Center expansion is essential for San Francisco to compete for lucrative convention business.
At the Moscone South building on Tuesday, thousands of physician assistants were attending the American Association of Physician Assistants' annual convention.
"I love the city. The convention center's wonderful. So far the events have been great," said Jill Jasperson, a PA from Minneapolis.
Many participants said San Francisco's climate, culture, and convenience can be a big draw, but the Moscone Center has one big drawback.
"Walking from one classroom to another sometimes it's very congested, very bottle-necked," said Marsha Collins, who came from Pella, Iowa.
"The PA profession has doubled in size every decade, so for us it's about developing those relationships in places where we know we can give these high quality educational meetings," said John McGinnity, President of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
The Moscone Center complex is small, at about 700,000 square feet, ranking 25th in size compared to other sites around the nation, according to D'Alessandro.
"We're feeling the pressure. A lot of our groups are outgrowing us who want to meet in San Francisco. A lot of groups would like to come to in San Francisco but they can't because the center is too small," D'Alessandro said.
The Moscone Center expansion involves replacing the lobby of Moscone South with a four-story addition that will add another 305,000 square feet of new exhibit space, meeting rooms, and ballroom facilities.
It also includes a pedestrian bridge to connect the Moscone North and South buildings. D'Alessandro says that should reduce the need to shut down Howard Street during all but the largest events such as Oracle's OracleWorld and Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conventions.
More conventions could also mean more money for nearby businesses.
"You absolutely see the influx of people so it definitely helps," said Tony Alcala, Vice-President of Split Bread, a restaurant that opened two years ago across from Moscone West and has lines down the block during peak convention times.
Hotel room occupancy can be challenging during the largest conventions. That has prompted Salesforce to explore the option of bringing in a cruise ship to accommodate some of their convention participants who number more than 120,000 people.
The city is expecting the number of hotel rooms to increase as the convention center expands.
"The current supply is about 32,000 so we're going to get another 1,800 more rooms in the next 5 years," D'Alessandro said, noting that hotels in surrounding communities in the East Bay and peninsula can also benefit.
Hotels are helping to pay as much as two-thirds of the costs for the public facility's expansion.
"Every time a visitor comes to San Francisco and stays in the hotel, they pay an assessment on top of their hotel bill that covers the majority of the cost of the construction," D'Alessandro told KTVU.