Policy Update | Sacramento Convention Center Expansion

For the past several months, members of Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s board and staff have participated in a Sacramento Convention Center (SCC) Expansion stakeholder group convened by Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The group has been tasked with addressing the need to expand Sacramento’s aging Convention Center while determining how much of the $170 million allocated by the city council is necessary to ensure the success of this expansion.

Located in the heart of Downtown Sacramento, the SCC has traditionally been viewed as the economic engine for the city and specifically downtown. Driving both regional tourism and the hotel nights that contribute to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue for the city, Convention Centers serve large event attendees and local residents alike. Through this combination of small community events and larger regional events, convention centers bring in new business and critical tax revenue that benefits our local economy.

Much of the discussion surrounding the expansion has focused on the convention center’s ability to generate additional TOT revenue when compared to other potential tourist attractions or possible TOT generators like an aquarium or viewing platform. While that conversation is worth having, Downtown Partnership is committed to the idea of the SCC as a keystone in our growing downtown and support of the businesses that have grown around the existing facility.

In March of 2016, Downtown Partnership’s Board of Directors adopted the following 7 principles to guide the conversation around improvements to the “Sacramento Convention Center / Community Center Theater District.” These principles continue to provide us with a framework moving forward with the stakeholder group. They are as follows:

  • Be downtown to capitalize on existing infrastructure investments
  • Be data-driven and customer-focused to meet the demands of its desired patrons
  • Be fiscally feasible and cost-effective to operate to maximize resources
  • Be transformative, competitive and attractive
  • Create new and expanded economic opportunities and enrich the quality of life in the City of Sacramento
  • Minimize impacts and disruptions to tenants and nearby businesses
  • Encourage a thriving Convention Center & Theater District

The most recent stakeholder group meeting, on February 23rd, focused on how the SCC compares to direct competitors including Spokane, Portland, Reno, San Jose and Long Beach. Unfortunately, with an aging facility that last saw an update in 1996, our convention facilities lag behind these competitors in the majority of categories, be it ballroom space, meeting rooms or exhibition space. Following this review of competitor cities, Michael Lockwood of the architectural design firm Populous outlined three potential convention center expansion concepts.  While we may not overtake our largest convention competitors, the three designs presented provide a roadmap for varying degrees of competitiveness in the convention industry. A key discussion point being the opportunity to design a facility that can allow for “stacked events” where two smaller conventions might be running concurrently or in a much tighter time frame due to the facilities ability to provide multiple lobbies, easier navigation for set up and break down, etc. The proposed facility options that Lockwood outlined include:

Option 1 – Major renovation of existing facility, improved connectivity and expanded exhibit & meeting space. A new East Lobby and improved food service.


Option 2 – Demolition of the original facility, expansion of exhibit, meeting, and ballroom space. Improved connectivity, new east and west lobbies, improved food service and creation of an events plaza between SCC and Theater.


Option 3 – Demolition of original facility, phased expansion of exhibit, meeting and ballroom space. Improved connectivity and new east and west lobbies with improved food service.


Each of these options provides a different level of investment by the City. On Tuesday, February 28th the City Council received an informational update on these expansion proposals, providing feedback for staff and the stakeholder group. While there are still two meetings ahead for this group, the item is expected to return to Council for a vote sometime in April. Whether the full $170 million in funding is allocated to the expansion, utilized to develop a new flagship hotel adjacent to the SCC, or partially re-allocated to other projects within downtown Sacramento remains to be seen. Regardless, Downtown Partnership is committed to working with the Mayor and Council to ensure that the decisions made are ones that best serve the residents, businesses and property owners who have committed themselves to the vision of a vibrant downtown destination for visitors and locals alike.