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Event Center looking toward future expansion
May 29, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
The San Mateo County Event Center’s long-desired plan to expand and add a hotel — both key draws for meeting planners and events with deep pockets that ripple into the adjoining economies — is taking small steps towards becoming a reality.

Nothing is set in stone; actually, there aren’t even blueprints, funding or official approvals. But the center’s board of directors has a consulting group currently eyeballing the area, looking at options and penciling out potential financing in the event the possibility actually turns into, well, an actual event.

Conventions, Sports & Leisure, the selected consulting firm, is spending the next six to eight months researching what type of new facility makes sense for the event center, said General Manager Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter said he would like to maintain the existing Event Center on Saratoga Drive in San Mateo with the exception of tearing down part of the buildings to house a new conference center and hotel at one end.

So far, Carpenter said, Conventions, Sports & Leisure feels the Event Center’s location is "perfect” because of its proximity to the San Francisco and San Jose airports and its plentiful parking.

"They felt we should have a good amount of support in building and booking the new facilities,” Carpenter said.

The Event Center hosts the annual county fair as well as a diverse range of events including floral shows, sports tournaments, trade shows, concerts and the very popular Maker Faire. The 48-acre site includes seven halls, a satellite wagering club and more than 195,000 square feet of meeting space.

Last year was one of the best financially in the last 10 to 15 years, Carpenter said.

The center no longer receives county money and lost about $150,000 in state funding but has built back up its reserves after taking out $700,000 to $800,000 to renovate the Jockey Club, a satellite wagering facility, in 2008. The fund is certainly not enough to fund an entire expansion project but it does allow putting some money back into the facilities and the $70,000 for the study, Carpenter said.

The feasibility report is due back in June and will include analyses of conference center demand, program and event levels, the hotel market, financial operations including revenue and expenses and the economic and fiscal impact.

"We don’t know yet what it will say but we’re hoping for some good information for the type of project we would like to have,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said a conference center with multipurpose functions is preferable to a convention center.  Meeting planners have said they’re looking not just for a center but also a destination where attendees can go off site for shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Shuttle buses can easily transport visitors for that, Carpenter said.

Changes at the Event Center are not just being weighed internally; a hotel there, for example, has been floated during county discussions about future economic development as has the suggestion of more modern facilities.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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