San Diego Convention Center Sails Pavilion Roof Replacement Begins

For the first time in nearly 28 years, the San Diego skyline will be very, very different. The San Diego Convention Center's iconic Sails Pavilion roof, with its white peaks that are visible from the air, land and bay, will be coming down in order to be replaced with a brand new structure.

"The white sails roof atop the 90,000 square foot exhibit space is part of what has made the San Diego Convention Center one of the most recognizable venues, worldwide," said San Diego Convention Center Corporation President & CEO Clifford "Rip" Rippetoe. "Thanks to a collaborative effort between our staff, our Board of Directors as well as City and State officials, we secured funding to extend the life of this unique facility asset."

After nearly three decades in service, the original sails will be taken down – one section at a time. The preliminary work will begin in August, with the entire project lasting through January 2018. In addition, the fire-life safety system that is part of the Sails Pavilion – including fire water cannons - will be upgraded, and new lighting will be installed.

Here are some fast facts about the project:

  • Cost: $10.5 million (Sails Roof Replacement), $1.66 million (Fire-Life Safety System)
  • Funding: Part of the $25.5 million California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank) Loan
  • Number of Project Partners: 7 including Birdair, Baker Electric, Kinsman Construction, Siemens, American Scaffold, Smart Safety, Barnhart-Reese
  • Work force on the project: 40 people per day at its peak, plus convention center staff

As far as a timeline goes, here is a quick overview of the projected milestones and estimated time it will take to accomplish.

The first pieces of the fabric roof will be removed around mid-August. But the roof will not come down all at once. Sixty-foot long pieces will be taken down, one segment at a time. Simultaneously, another contractor will be removing all the roof's support structure. It will be quite a feat of engineering.


The Sails Pavilion was originally constructed as part of the "phase one" convention center which opened in November 1989. It was largest column-free special events space in North America and started as an "open space" with no windows. The first event held there was a boat show. It was the site of concerts as well, including Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys.

In 1997, a customer advisory board recommended the enhancement and enclosure of the space to give meeting planners greater flexibility while retaining the natural light and "open feel." Glass walls and arches were added, held in place by 20 structural towers and 1,000 high-tensile stainless steel rods (the same used in yacht rigging) to hold the fabric in place. An infill also covered the openings in the roof, known as "weather flies"


The Sails Pavilion is one of eight major capital improvement projects at the San Diego Convention Center. The key to the projects was acquiring the historic IBank loan.

The loan also funded the replacement of the concrete floor in the Sails Pavilion beginning last December. A total of 2,500 tons of concrete was removed from the space and new concrete was laid, covering 108,450 square feet.

"The IBank program was created to finance infrastructure that promotes jobs, a strong economy and assists local governments in projects like these, which can ensure we remain the region's premier gathering place for conventions, tradeshows and events," said Gil Cabrera, Vice Chair of the San Diego Convention Center Board of Directors.

The convention center has a section of its website that allows you to see the projects as they are underway and explore photos showcasing the projects through their different states of renovation. Click through and see what we're up to. Then watch the video below for the latest and visit our building enhancements. 


Barbara Moreno's picture
Posted by Barbara Moreno, on August 8, 2017
Meeting Planners, News and Developments

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