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Analysis: Let’s imagine this one for a second. You hop aboard the USS Convention Center, a half mile-long behemoth of concrete and glass, and lazily float across the bay with your buddies from Comic-Con. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Well, let’s get back to reality. Contrary to this rumor, the Convention Center isn’t floating on water. Although parts of the building require special pumps to prevent it from flooding, the actual structure is connected to bedrock.
“To be honest, we haven’t had a lot of calls about our ‘floating building,’ ” Convention Center spokesman Steven Johnson said when I asked about the tale’s accuracy. “This is probably one of the more unusual calls I’ve had to answer.”
Johnson doesn’t know where the rumor started, but said it may have something to do with underground parking in the oldest section of the building. Unlike later expansions, which essentially sit on pillars above the water table, the original section was built directly on top of the bedrock below.
Because the underground parking area is surrounded by saturated soil and the bay, designers built a system to pump water into the bay and prevent the underground areas from flooding. The system has 16 pumps, one that works continuously and 15 that stand by as backups. Each year, the pumping system costs the city about $700,000.
And in its entire history, the system has never altogether failed, Johnson said. When one pump stopped working, a backup always stepped in.
In the late 1980s, after construction crews first turned on the system, geologists found the change in water pressure it created was slowly pulling an underground blob of pollutants toward the bay. The blob later stopped short of the bay, avoiding a larger environmental catastrophe, but for a while it was the talk of the town.
While the blob has become mere legend, Convention Center officials hope an upgraded pumping system will play a role in their proposed expansion, which is expected to cost significantly less than $750 million, an earlier estimate. Although the Convention Center had previously pumped water into the bay, environmental regulators stopped that practice in 2008, diverting the water into the sewer system. The proposed upgrades would make the water drinkable and add it to the city’s supply. Johnson said Convention Center officials don’t have a price estimate for the project yet.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, the expanded section hasn’t been designed to float on water. It would, however, include a roof-top, grassy terrace where you could catch some rays with those Comic-Con buddies.
For more on this series about local urban legends, check out our stories about a mythic floatable bridge, secret underground caverns, a graveyard turned park and a rumored village of miniature houses atop Mount Soledad.
Correction: The original version of this story inaccurately described where the pumping system now sends water. It goes into the sewer system, not the bay.