San Diego Convention Center

Completion of KONE EcoMod installation on two of the 40-ft units

Escalator upgrades at the home of the famous Comic-Con International posed unique challenges for KONE.

submitted by Elise King, KONE

Built in 1989, the San Diego Convention Center is San Diego’s premiere gathering place. In 2019, the facility hosted more than 130 events attended by 900,000 visitors. From prestigious medical association conventions, to the massive Comic-Con International, the San Diego Convention Center plays a leading role in regional economic impact.

The facility’s singular identifying feature is the rooftop Sails Pavilion, a 90,000-ft2 exhibit and special-event area. The Sails Pavilion’s roof is evocative of the city’s maritime history and signifes the facility’s proximity to the San Diego shore.

Winner of the gold award for best convention center in the Western U.S. by the 2018 Prevue Visionary Awards, the San Diego Convention Center is about 2 million ft2 on three levels, including a mammoth exhibit hall of more than 460,000 ft2. Reliable, dependable escalators are essential to smooth people fow throughout the facility.

In an efort to stay ahead of the escalators’ useful life (the units were installed in 1989), convention center leaders spent fve years planning for equipment modernization. In a facility serving thousands on a daily basis, shutting down escalators for the duration of the project was out of the question.

Selecting the KONE EcoMod™ escalator modernization solution, convention center leaders avoided the complex and costly challenges inherent in truss removal and replacement. New escalators were installed within existing trusses instead, minimizing disruption. Split into four phases, the escalator modernization proceeded with little impact on event attendees. The project was completed in November 2018.

Phase 1: Two escalators modernized; installation
complete June 2017
Phase 2: Two escalators modernized; installation complete December 2017
Phase 3: Two escalators modernized; installation complete May 2018
Phase 4: Two escalators modernized; installation complete November 2018


If a convention center has a mantra, it is, “The show must go on!” At the San Diego Convention Center, escalator modernization could not impede normal daily operations and certainly not the facility’s biggest annual event, Comic-Con.

Launched to create awareness and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms, Comic-Con has been held at the San Diego Convention Center for more than two decades. Occupying every square inch of the facility, some 135,000 Comic-Con attendees routinely fll every step on all eight escalators during a tightly choreographed, weeklong schedule.

To ensure smooth operations, KONE worked closely with convention center management to develop a schedule that sidestepped major events and avoided Comic-Con altogether. The project was broken into four phases, with a carefully orchestrated pause during Comic-Con.

During the two-year project, work was limited to two escalators in each phase: one on the front of the building and one on the back. Instead of impacting multiple units at either entry point, just one on each side was shut down at any given time.

Adding another challenge: With a 40-ft rise, escalators on the facility’s front side are more than twice the height of the average escalator. Retention of architectural cladding on all units was essential.


EcoMod not only minimized disruption, it also added new reduced energy consumption and operating costs, and launched a 25- to 30-year equipment lifecycle by inserting all-new escalators into existing trusses. An economical alternative to full truss replacement, modernization also allows fexibility in budgeting, making it suited to large public projects.

Architectural cladding — including on four units with a 40-ft rise — was undisturbed by the turnkey solution. No subsequent work by other trades was necessary, and because no drywall dust was generated, air quality at the convention center was not compromised.

Sensitive to daily operations, KONE crews working 12-h shifts minimized the noise associated with the project. Particularly loud functions were conducted early and late in the day, outside the normal conference schedule.


The escalator modernization delivered updated controls, safety features and code compliance with the kind of modern aesthetics demanded by a world-class facility. San Diego Convention Center Director, Building Operations Bob Ross said:

“The escalators have new steps and lots of new stainless-steel components. It all looks nicer and cleaner. And blue LED lighting on the steps has really enhanced the lobby atmosphere. The steps look very cool at night.”

Reduced maintenance is another beneft of the modernization program, one that maximizes equipment uptime. “We’ve found it’s quicker and easier to troubleshoot problems,” Ross added. “The old equipment was not computerized. With the modernization, the technician can plug in a laptop and get quick answers.”

KONE’s modernization kept escalators in operation through the course of a two-year project with minimal disruption. In a facility that plays host to some 900,000 guests each year, that’s no small accomplishment. Ross said of the project:

“This is a very busy convention center. To take any of our vertical people-movers out of service is tough for us. KONE worked with our schedule in a very tight timeframe and completed the job on time. We really appreciate [its] eforts to partner with us on this project.”

Elise King, KONE

Elise King, KONE

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