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Phil Matier: Height A Factor In Proposed SF Moscone Center Expansion

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— A proposed expansion of San Francisco’s Moscone Center has some residents in the city’s SoMa District upset over height issues, but with tech and tourism driving local industry, the only way to build just might be up.

Former SF Mayor Willie Brown joined in the discussion on why height has always played such a factor in what gets built in the city and why so many people object.

When they first built the Moscone Center (completed in 1981), you have to remember that was pretty much Skid Row with plenty of low-income housing. There were a lot of height fights going on in San Francisco about how tall things could be. Basically they cut a deal where they built it underground and that would leave it short.

The argument for the need to expand is apparent with how convention business exploding.

“They need a bigger place,” Brown said. “When you notice the streets are closed, when Oracle comes to town and the streets are closed when Salesforce comes to town and brings 150,000 people; that’s just part of what San Francisco is about.”

Brown has been a champion of expanding the Moscone Center because a lot of the money comes in from taxes on hotels and stuff like that. If you’re going to be a tourist-based economy, which San Francisco is, what better way to drag it in than convention business?

Let’s not forget, Brown was the one who originally wanted to put Madison Square Garden there. We have the running debate on if we should put up an arena for the Golden State Warriors and if you want a place that’s central, near BART and Muni, as well as close to hotels, look no further than the Moscone Center.

Brown said Moscone West, which is next door to the 5th & Mission St. Garage, would have been the perfect arrangement for an expansion project since the garage is engineered in a way so that it could handle two-more floors. “It could have been converted to an arena on any given day for basketball,” he said.

It was a former SF supervisor who championed the legislation that put the Moscone Center partially underground. In return for that, a children’s park was put on top. That’s why there’s a carousel on top along with a children’s art park, and a bowling alley/ ice-skating rink. This is right in the middle of the city as part of the political payoffs to the Moscone Center. You’d get a lot more if you put an arena.

You’ve got to remember that tech and tourism are the driving industries in the city. Brown said he doesn’t think we’d see the same ‘No Wall on the Waterfront’ protesters against the Moscone expansion. The unions would be behind it because it gives their workers work. Businesses are behind it and the city is changing, so a lot of the protesters have moved on and moved out. It may be a case where the only way for the city to build is up.

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