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Maren stands in front of a Convention Center entrance
Reflecting on my First Month at the San Diego Convention Center

Exactly one month ago, I started working at the San Diego Convention Center. While I moved from Los Angeles to assume this Director of Marketing & Communications role, I was familiar with the city, having lived in San Diego for most of my 20s. During my years here, I spent enough time downtown to witness clusters of badged professionals exploring the Gaslamp after their conference sessions: doctors, researchers, software developers, sales representatives—and, every July, superheroes and villains. And I knew that the SDCC’s potential expansion was a long-running San Diego topic. While I had that general awareness, I knew I had much more to learn about the building, its management, its community partners and the convention center sector as a whole. Through this website and social media, I plan to work with our Communications team to continually highlight lesser-known aspects of SDCC’s operations. For now, I’ll share some of my initial takeaways.

The scale of the operation is even greater than I expected. Each time I walk through the lobby, I encounter new event displays, new topics, and new, huge populations of attendees. Serving hot food hot and cold food cold is no easy feat during events where attendees collectively consume 42,000 eggs and 18,000 cups of coffee. And it goes beyond food. During my first week, my colleagues’ eyes would light up as they mentioned the new carpeting. I learned that this project had been in the works for years because of its size; the new carpet now covers more than 250,000 square feet of the building, with approximately 46,000 carpet tiles. Once started, the project had to be completed quickly because SDCC rarely has extended periods when spaces are not in use. I’ve previously worked in museum settings where one day each week is set aside for facility projects. At the Convention Center, where the exhibit hall is occupied more than 80% of the time, the quiet days are precious, tending to coincide with holidays and winter break.

Hundreds of attendees eat lunch in the park outside the Convention Center

Thousands of attendees enjoying lunch during Cisco Live

My first tour of the building led me to the loading dock, where I saw staff from the San Diego Rescue Mission loading catering trays into a van. Our food and beverage partner, Centerplate, provides the Rescue Mission with event food that has not been plated. Short ribs, empanadas, fingerling potatoes — they all go. Not far from the loading dock is an industrial recycling sorter, where discarded materials go to be carefully hand-sorted to determine which objects should be recycled (in material-specific bins), composted or sent to a landfill. The surplus event swag? My Convention Services colleagues work with clients to identify local nonprofits to receive extra tote bags, mugs, notebooks and other unused items.

The workplace incorporates a blend of public, nonprofit and entrepreneurial approaches. SDCC is a nonprofit public benefit corporation, an organization created by the City of San Diego with policies established by a seven-person, City-appointed board of directors. Though we operate as a nonprofit, our focus on the success and happiness of clients means that areas of our work function more similarly to a corporate hospitality setting. Other times I feel as though I’m part of a government agency because of the City of San Diego’s involvement and our compliance with City bylaws; for example, all board meetings are publicly noticed and open to the general public, with opportunity for public comment.

Years from now, I still might not know everyone’s names. The San Diego Convention Center Corporation has nearly 500 employees and our food and beverage partner Centerplate has another 900-plus local employees, including full-time, part-time and on-call staff. Then there are the in-house teams from our audio-visual partner ON Site and technology partner Smart City, along with the numerous companies and individuals our clients hire to manage and/or staff everything from booth displays to security to guest registration to decor. At some large conventions, more than 1,000 staff are actively working at any given time.

So many people to meet and so much to explore. Do you have any questions about the San Diego Convention Center? Which aspects of our work interest you? Who should I aim to meet in my second month? What’s your favorite taco spot close to the Convention Center? I want to know! Send me an email or post a comment on social media.

Maren Dougherty's picture
Posted by Maren Dougherty, on February 5, 2020
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