Convention Center rooftop now has a nighttime light show

The long-awaited renovation of the San Diego Convention Center’s iconic sails pavilion is now complete, but it comes with an unexpected bonus: colored lights that will illuminate the city’s skyline.

The $16.7 million redo of the center’s sails pavilion, including the new fabric roof, concrete flooring, lighting and water cannons for fire suppression, officially debuted this week, following a nine-month-long construction process.

The biggest part of the project was replacing the tattered fabric covering and installing a new supporting cable system for the rooftop, a glass-enclosed space that spans 90,000 square feet.

What wasn’t expected is a new LED system that has the capability of lighting up the rooftop sails in a variety of colors that can even be synchronized to music.

Installed at a cost of $377,000, the lighting feature is being touted primarily as a way to give San Diego a competitive edge when luring groups to bring their meetings here. What hasn’t been decided yet, though, is how much the Convention Center Corp. would charge customers if they want a customized, multi-hued lighting presentation.

The electrical costs are minimal, but what is costly is the computer programming work that goes into customizing various lighting patterns.

“Part of what we do is create uniqueness,something that’s different than the other guy, namely, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco,” said Clifford "Rip" Rippetoe, the corporation’s CEO.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to give our meeting planners options so they can create a better experience for their attendees, and this is one of those ways, by setting the mood, place, and atmosphere. It helps us to be cutting edge and sell us as a destination.”

Beyond that, the new feature will allow the center to light up the pavilion — and by extension, the night sky — on holidays like St. Patrick’s and Fourth of July and for special events, such as the Susan G. Komen walk for cancer, Rippetoe added. A rainbow of lights would be ideal, he said, for San Diego's annual Pride celebration.

This weekend, the pavilion will be dressed up in blue lights in honor of the Democratic Party’s state convention that is being held here.

The overall replacement of the 29-year-old sail structure was the most costly of the repair projects the center is funding with the help of a $25.5 million loan from the state of California's revolving infrastructure fund that will require yearly payments of $1.6 million over the next 25 years, starting in 2019.

The loan covers all but the new lighting system, which was paid for from the convention center corporation’s reserves. Those reserves have grown considerably since 2015 when they had dwindled to just $1.7 million.

Board president Gil Cabrera said he believed the expense was a worthwhile investment.

“Our reserves have been above our target of $6 million and $7 million for the last few years,” Cabrera said. “And because we had all the equipment there for the sails pavilion work, we were able to do the lights at the same time, and I understand it saved us a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

Local tourism and business leaders have been pushing for an expansion of the bayfront center for years. A coalition of civic, business and labor interests, along with homeless advocates, are trying to qualify for the November ballot an initiative that would raise the hotel tax to finance the expansion, plus pay for homeless services and housing, as well as street repairs.

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg

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