Conference Center Overhaul Revitalizes Monterey Downtown

A complete renovation of the Monterey Conference Center transformed an outdated building into a stunning centerpiece of the California city’s bustling waterfront.

The Monterey Conference Center has been a fixture of Monterey’s downtown for more than 40 years, but recent upgrades have created a state-of-the-art destination designed that is attracting more visitors to the coastal city.

“The venue is centrally located and provides an ideal connection between downtown Monterey and the waterfront,” said Michael Shewchuk, WSP project manager. “But when it was built in the 1970s its design was all about function – nothing much more than a concrete-and-plaster block. Not a lot of window dressing.”

Today that ordinary building has been transformed into a bright, vibrant reflection of its seaside neighborhood, featuring a familiar exterior inspired by the wraparound porches found on many homes in that area. The concrete and stucco façade of old has been removed and replaced with perforated steel and transparent glass, connecting to the adjacent Portola Hotel & Spa and improving pedestrian access from downtown to the waterfront.

“By peeling away much of the exterior and reimagining the interior, the center offers better flow throughout the building and a more distinct connection to the neighborhood outside,” Shewchuk said.

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©2018 WSP USA

The building’s second-story wood and glass screens create a glow when illuminated by the light from the plaza below. 

Reuse and Repurpose

WSP USA provided full mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) engineering services for the municipal facility, working on behalf of the architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The firm also provided energy modeling services to SOM for renovations to the façade and the mechanical systems.

For both environmental and economic reasons, the owner of the Monterey Conference Center wanted to reuse or repurpose as much of the original building as possible for the renovation. WSP was a key driver in making sure that as many of the MEP systems were saved and updated as possible to meet that goal.

In conjunction with previous consultant reports and studies, WSP performed a site survey to evaluate the condition and capability for MEP systems’ reuse. WSP prepared selective demolition drawings to reuse as many services as possible while accommodating the new architectural and structural layout. WSP developed and presented pricing alternates for the owner to consider in balancing sustainable building improvements, such as equipment replacement, with the budget.

“While it may be easier to start from scratch and install all new systems, we were mindful of this objective and reused the previous system wherever it was possible, evaluating everything to determine what was practical to save and what should be replaced,” Shewchuk said.

The renovation reused more than 80 percent of the original steel and concrete superstructure. This component of the project was one factor that led to a design that is being considered for Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

As the electrical engineer, WSP worked with the building’s lighting designer and the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments through its Energy Watch incentive program to fund and replace the existing fluorescent house lighting with LED dimmable fixtures in the main ballroom.

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©2018 WSP USA

The Monterey Conference Center’s outdoor terrace features an oval-shaped oculus.

Economic Driver

The renovated meeting facility provides more than 40,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and a capacity of 3,200 people, as well as an art gallery and administrative offices.

Exterior renovations created an outside extension of the conference center and brings together the adjacent Monterey Marriott and recently renovated Portola Hotel & Spa with a plaza that creates a convenient connection for visitors walking between buildings. Together, these properties offer a combined 85,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, 19,150 square feet of exhibition space and 700 hotel rooms.

The enlarged lobby of the Monterey Conference Center features double-height glazing, while skylights and clerestory windows bring natural light deep into the building accenting the interiors details, including its wooden beams and ceilings. At night, light from the plaza creates a soft glow that covers the building’s second-story wood and glass screens. An oval-shaped oculus and a large outdoor terrace overlook Portola Plaza, providing visitors with a memorable view of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Careful consideration was given to keep three of the ballrooms in operation during the demolition and construction periods of the $60 million project, while all other spaces were shut down for the duration of the project. But the economic and aesthetic payoff since opening has been worth the disruption.

“These renovations have totally reinvigorated the center and it is giving an economic boost to the downtown, attracting a lot of new groups and visitors to the area,” Shewchuk said. “It has returned to its role of an economic driver for the scenic waterfront.”

Among its many events, the facility hosts several classic car shows and auctions, including the Monterey Car Week show held in late August. The Monterey Conference Center was designed to include a door and pathway that allows vehicles to enter the building for these events.

Groundbreaking for the renovations was held in late 2015, and a grand opening ceremony marked the completion of the project in January.

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©2018 WSP USA

The Monterey Conference Center features an exterior inspired by the wraparound porches found on many homes in the city’s waterfront area.

Project of the Year

In September, the Monterey Conference Center was recognized with the 2018 Architectural Engineering Project of the Year award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), San Francisco Section.

Shewchuk said the honor is an impressive achievement for a project that is already making a profound impact on its community.

“To witness the physical transformation of the conference center; to compare what it looked like before and the striking final results of the current building, was a great experience,” Shewchuk said.

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