Union-built convention center opens doors

By Sheri Williams

The city of Sacramento officially cut the ribbon on its new convention center in June, built by union crews.

The massive renovation of the iconic downtown building has been a years-long project, one that continued during the pandemic with union construction workers utilizing new safety protocols to continue the effort even as other industries were forced to shut down.

“I’m not sure what I’m more proud of, the fact that we realized this vision together or the fact that we never stopped building the convention center together during the pandemic,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early June. “Let the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center be a symbol in Sacramento of what is possible even in the hard times.”

The $180 million renovation and expansion of Sacramento’s SAFE Credit Union Convention Center has been in the works for more than two and a half years. It includes 240,000 feet of meeting space, a 15,000 square foot indoor plaza, four exhibition halls and nearly 40 break-out rooms for smaller events. It also boosts pandemic-inspired safety features such as touchless amenities. The renovation also includes a new façade that reshapes the downtown area, which is already in the midst of a building boom.

“I see a downtown that has both been challenged, that has suffered a lot of hardship, but it is also incredibly resilient,” said Steinberg. “You never know what’s going to come your way in terms of the hard times, but you sure have the ability, and we have the ability, to determine how we respond to it.”

Kevin Ferreira, executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades, said that the project was a testament to the union women and men who made it possible.

“Our crews were determined to keep the work going, even during this immensely difficult year,” he said. “The Building Trades understand what a safe workplace means, and we put in place all the necessary requirements to make sure our people were protected, and then we did what we do best: Got to work and got the job done.”

The new convention center is expected to draw more than 1 million visitors in the next few years, including 600,000 nights of hotel rooms stays, making it an economic engine for the downtown area and Sacramento as a whole.

“This is a joyous day. This convention center defines who we are here in Sacramento,” said U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who spoke at the ribbon-cutting event. “A space honoring our past but also showing where we want to be in the future. This is for the generations and that is what makes it special.”

The new space will see its first event on Labor Day weekend, when the Sac Anime convention will take over. The Wine and Grape Symposium, a major wine industry event, has also booked the space on a multi-year contract.

“Having the center closed for renovations, followed by the pandemic, has been particularly devastating for businesses around the convention center, Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento, told media. “The return of conventions will be incredibly helpful for struggling businesses coming out of the pandemic.”