Hosting conventions is a lucrative business for San Francisco, bringing in about $2 billion each year. However, the amount of trash, feces, and used drug needles scattered throughout the city’s streets and sidewalks is making it harder to convince companies to return to San Francisco.
“It’s already hitting San Francisco in the pocketbook,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, which aims to attract tourism and business to the city. “We don’t want San Francisco to be seen as a dirty, unsafe, unfriendly city, and we need to do what we can to counter that.”
Convention Backs Out, Blames 'Dirty Streets'
For the first time, according to D’Alessandro, a convention has decided to cancel future events in San Francisco, specifically citing the city’s “dirty streets” and “unsafe” atmosphere.
“They just said that the conditions of the streets, in their mind, had gotten to the point where their delegates don’t feel safe coming to San Francisco,” he said. “They see harassment on the street, and it’s not a pleasant environment, so they have reconsidered all future years in San Francisco.”
The organization, which D’Alessandro declined to name, is a Chicago-based medical association boasting roughly 15,000 conference attendees. Over the past three decades, the group has held three to five-day conventions in San Francisco every few years, bringing in $40 million worth of business to the city with each event, according to D’Alessandro.
The medical association had already scheduled conventions in San Francisco for later this year and in 2023; however, after those events, the group has declared it won’t be back.
Cancellation as City Spends Millions to Attract More Conventions
The cancellation comes in the midst of a $500 million project to renovate and expand the city’s Moscone Convention Center, all in hopes of attracting more conventions to San Francisco. The city averages 40 to 60 conventions each year, which can attract upwards of 650,000 attendees. Last year, however, the center hosted only 38 conventions. The decline was believed to be, in large part, due to the ongoing construction, which required the temporary closure of parts of the center. The renovation, which will add 305,000 square feet of additional convention center space, is expected to be completed by December.
“The hospitality and tourism industry in San Francisco is fragile,” said D’Alessandro, who now fields similar critiques from other convention planners weekly. “It doesn’t take a lot for a destination to be determined as not viable any more – not safe, not friendly.”
Homelessness, dirty streets, and smells now account for 29 percent of visitor complaints, according to a recent survey by the San Francisco Travel Association.
Viral Investigation Exposed San Francisco's 'Diseased Streets'
A recent NBC Bay Area investigation went viral after exposing an alarming amount of trash, drug needles, and feces scattered across San Francisco.
The report centered around a 153-block survey of downtown San Francisco, which revealed trash on every block, 100 needles, and more than 300 piles of feces along the 20-mile stretch of streets and sidewalks.
San Francisco's latest budget proposal, which is expected to be approved by the end of July, adds $12.8 million over the next two years to the city’s street cleaning budget, which has nearly doubled in the past five years from $33.4 million to $65.4 million.
Mayor-elect Breed Promises Cleaner Streets Within Three Months
“I want people to see change within the first three months of my administration,” Mayor-elect London Breed said during a March interview with the Investigative Unit.
“I want [people] to see changes in terms of the cleanliness of the streets,” she said. “I would measure that by ... not having feces on our sidewalks and also urine and other things that we see, the needles, and many of the other challenges that exist.”
When pressed whether trash, feces, and needles would be completely cleaned off the city’s streets by her three month mark, Breed responded, “I’m not saying that it will all be eliminated. I am saying that there will be a significant difference where it's noticeable.”
Breed will be sworn in as San Francisco’s 45th mayor on July 11.