San Diego Convention Center comeback: Staff prepares to host first conference Aug. 1

DOWNTOWN (KUSI) – For 15 months the San Diego Convention Center has not hosted a single event, causing $2.1 billion in lost revenue, and leaving hundreds without jobs. Officials pivoted their efforts to humanitarian aid with the creation of Operation Shelter-to-Home in March of 2020.

President and CEO of the Convention Center, Rip Rippetoe, said bringing in hundreds of San Diego’s unsheltered population off the streets amid the COVID-19 pandemic would become the longest running operation in the convention center’s history.

“The ability for us to be able to serve our community over the past year to 15 months has really moved us,” Rippetoe said. “We have such a great team with such big hearts and we’re proud to have been a little part in working on those projects.”

For the last several months the convention center has housed hundreds of migrant teen girls in a temporary emergency shelter. Operations there are expected to wrap up on July 15 to make way for the first convention slated for August 1.

“We’re very fortunate. We have 28, almost 29, events already scheduled right between August 1 to January 1,” Rippetoe said. “We know the attendance is likely going to be down but the interest and pent-up demand is existing and we see that in the conversations we have with these event producers.”

Medical conventions are one of the biggest economic drivers that create a ripple effect of revenue boosts across the region. As for convention center workers let go or furloughed at the start of the pandemic, they will slowly be called back in to meet the demand.

“When we open at the end of July, early August, we won’t be back to the level pre-pandemic, but we will steadily be going to grow to that over the next few months,” Rippetoe said.

The transition of flipping operations from the migrant shelter to the first slated convention has already begun. For weeks, staff has been taking inventory of repairs or minor construction needed along with scheduling cleaning and maintenance.

“To execute on our plans, this time working with Health and Human Services with emergency intake to demobilize that site and get that taken care of, and turn around and welcome our first show back,” he said.

The first private convention since the onset of the pandemic will be hosted by SPIE Optics, who will hold a conference from Aug. 1 to Aug. 5.

Come Aug. 14, the American Kennel Club will take over downtown San Diego in a family-friendly convention that will be the very first public convention offered in San Diego since the pandemic began. Tickets can be purchased here:

“There’s never been a better time to be on the cusp of something that’s going to be really great over the coming years than it is to be in San Diego right now,” Rippetoe said.

KUSI’s Hunter Sowards was live in Downtown San Diego with more details on the Convention Center’s transition.

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