By Dave Fidlin
New lighting, fabric roof atop Sails Pavilion is visible throughout Downtown
San Diego’s skyline will never be the same.
Officials within the San Diego Convention Center recently made this bold proclamation alongside local dignitaries, as the wraps were taken off the Sails Pavilion’s exterior overhaul.
The $16.7 million project is one of a series of upgrades to the entire center, which in recent years has hosted such disparate events as San Diego Comic-Con and a Society of Neuroscience conference.
The most visible element within Sails Pavilion’s revamped 90,000-square-foot exhibit space is an LED-powered light display atop a newly renovated fabric roof, which consists of 20 separate pieces.
The fluctuating color schemes mimic those seen on the Empire State Building in New York City. They are also being illuminated bright enough to have a visible impact from such points as Gaslamp Quarter and Coronado Bay.
The series of changes taking place at the Sails Pavilion represent a new chapter for the Convention Center, which next year will celebrate its 30th year in operation.
“We’ve known for the past 25 years that we were going to have to replace [portions of the Sails Pavilion building],” said Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, in an interview with San Diego Downtown News.
While the lighting and roof are two of the most visible aspects of the Sails Pavilion’s refresh, the specific project has other elements, including a new concrete floor, a water suppression system, and a chiller tie-in.
Although conceptual behind-the-scenes planning had been taking place for the Convention Center’s next chapter while it still was in its infancy, Rippetoe said the specific details for the Sails Pavilion began coalescing 2 1/2 years ago.
“The actual project you’re seeing now was mapped out and decided on in late 2015,” Rippetoe said.
When asked who designed Sails Pavilion’s makeover, Rippetoe said it is a complex question. Vista-based Pro-Cal Lighting Design and Installation was awarded the contract to bring the vision into reality.
“I’d be reluctant to say we designed it,” Rippetoe said. “They took that concept and made it happen. They did a great job.”
In a statement, Karen Totaro, executive vice president and general manager of the Convention Center, said the project was a success because of cooperation between all parties involved.
Other major contractors taking part in the project, in addition to Pro-Cal, were BirdAir and Siemens and Kings Construction.
“This is a very different space than it was when it opened in 1989,” Totaro said in the statement. “I am proud of the entire team. Their work will serve as a legacy for both our city and our customers to live up to our award-winning titles, ‘Venue of Excellence’ and ‘Best of California.’”
While planning and bringing together all partners is one part of the equation, determining how the work will be funded is the other all-important piece of the puzzle.
According to figures from Convention Center executives, most of the work at the Sails Pavilion is being funded through a loan from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. The one piece not covered under the loan is the LED lighting, which is being funded through reserve dollars within the Convention Center’s own operating budget.
Whenever possible, Rippetoe said work on the refurbishments to the Sails Pavilion were done in an environmentally-conscious manner. According to a fact sheet outlining the improvements, 2,364 tons of recycled concrete were used for the flooring. An additional 31.95 tons of recycled metal were used to support the improvements.
The LED light fixtures also were installed with energy conservation in mind, Rippetoe said, because, “We wanted to be socially responsible.”
With the latest series of improvements taking form, Rippetoe said he is pleased with the outcome and believes they will serve as a means of ushering the Convention Center into a new era that will keep San Diego competitive with its peers for tourism and convention dollars.
“It’s very iconic — not just in San Diego, but around the world,” Rippetoe said of the facility.
Top-level city officials, including Mayor Kevin Faulconer, have also gone on record, noting the significance of the improvements.
“These upgrades represent an infrastructure investment in one of the greatest economic engines that we have,” Faulconer said in a statement. “This iconic Sails Pavilion is how so many people — San Diegans and visitors alike — help to identify our great city skyline.”
For a glimpse into the revamped Sails Pavilion, visit bit.ly/2CoKolf.
— Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.