"Having the long view for the project comes as a result of the dialogue that takes places between the builder and the designer," he says.

Meanwhile, the Moscone Convention Center is currently going through a $500 million expansion because, says Lopez, the facility is at capacity and "key clients," including the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, are demanding more space.

"Conventions are getting larger and we don't have the space to meet the demands of the clients," says Lopez. If the DPW decides not to expand the convention center and clients decide to book elsewhere, the city would lose a significant slice of revenue. "Tourism and concessions are a huge economic driver for San Francisco." But it'll take a lot of conventions to cover $500 million.

City architect Edgar Lopez takes on the often thankless job of keeping San Francisco's buildings and infrastructure efficient, functional, aesthetically pleasing, and seismically sound.
Mike Koozmin
City architect Edgar Lopez takes on the often thankless job of keeping San Francisco's buildings and infrastructure efficient, functional, aesthetically pleasing, and seismically sound.

This may be the part of Lopez's job most subject to controversy — whether the city invests in big projects whose benefits might trickle down to the local economy (fat-walleted orthopedists roaming the streets in search of thrills, for example), or in more, smaller projects that please the various communities.

Lopez says that his department "strive[s] for a balance in our projects" — big ones like the hospital as well as small-scale works like building and restoring libraries, swimming pools, and recreation centers. A 10-year Capital Plan can aim to keep the city in good shape, attractive and seismically sound, but its implementation will never please all of the people. Buildings aren't just street decoration; they're economic drivers, too.

And while Lopez says that community groups do get "impatient" when they hear there's no funding to initiate capital improvements in their districts, "for the most part, they tend to be understanding and recognize that the city doesn't have sufficient funds to fix all the problems at once."

He also urges community groups to remember the multi-faceted benefits they receive as a result of large events like conventions. He makes the trickle-down argument: From filling up the city's restaurants and hotels to generating tax revenue that funds everything from street repairs to arts programs, keeping an eye on vital clients' requests can be a huge boon to the community's fiscal well-being. Major projects benefit the local communities. But whichever scale he's working at, there's only so much space, and a lot of toes to potentially step on.

"We have 49 square miles — we're land-bound and small. There's no more space we can grab, so we're strategic about how we do our work."

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