Dawn and Bill Davidson co-chair large Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Diego

By Kathy Day

A year’s worth of planning comes together this week for Dawn and Bill Davidson, whose design and homebuilding companies share offices in Del Mar. More than 10,000 building industry representatives land in town for the annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference (PCBC). The couple is co-chairing the event, which is being held June 5-6.

Being held at the San Diego Convention for the first time this year, the two-date event formally kicks off even earlier, on Tuesday morning with several forums. But for early arrivals, there’s also a train trip up the coast Monday to San Juan Capistrano on the horizon. Since its inception in 1959 as a small educational conference, PCBC had been based in San Francisco, but the sponsoring California Building Industry Association (BIA) board decided last year to start alternating locations — meaning it will return to San Diego in the future.

Bill Davidson, who started Davidson Communities in 1978, and his wife Dawn, who opened Design Line Interiors in 1985, know the conference well. The Davidsons have been honored many times by their peers. Bill was named the local BIA’s Industry Professional of the Year and is a member of Builder Magazine’s Hall of Fame; his homes have won many a Gold Nugget. Dawn was saluted as the local Building Professional and Design Professional of the Year and is a member of the California Homebuilding Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

Bill attended his first PCBC in 1973 and has been to every one since.

“As a builder, it’s the only place to go to see the future and, boy, has the industry changed,” Bill said. While they used to go to see the latest in home designs and products, today it is a place to meet bankers and investors, who initially didn’t attend – and stayed away during the recession.

Dawn first attended the event in the mid-1980s after starting her firm.

“I wanted to see the products and get clients,” she said. “It’s great for networking and lots of fun … It really strengthens relationships and gives you an opportunity to learn a lot.”

It’s an opportunity to connect with clients from all over the 14 Western states, Canada and Mexico, who are all there “relaxed and wanting to learn,” she added.

The Davidsons, who were asked by the late Horace Hogan and Steve Doyle – like them, veteran members and leaders of the San Diego Building Industry Association (BIA) — to chair the event, are excited about the prospects for this year’s program. It is appropriately titled “Start Something New.”

Over the years, through good times and bad, it expanded to include architects, developers, lenders and investors, marketing, design and construction specialists, as well as product mangers. It features an exhibit floor with the latest building materials and technologies, as well workshops on topics ranging from architecture and design to financial strategies and digital technologies.

One of the highlights is the annual Gold Nugget Awards ceremony, honoring those who have created the best in design, planning and development. Bill said he and his team frequently go out and visit the winning projects after the awards to find out about innovative approaches.

At its height, PCBC drew more than 37,000 to the Moscone Center; this year, with the building industry rebounding and energy returning, Dawn said they expect 10,000 attendees, who will book about 6,000 local hotel rooms. There are also countless meals in local restaurants and sometimes memories are made after the hosted events end.

In 1994, for example, a group from San Diego met at the well-known Lefty O’Doul’s bar in downtown San Francisco. It just happened that was the night O.J. Simpson was driving a white Bronco, being chased by police before he was arrested.

“We were all glued to the TV,” Dawn recalled.

Attendance and participation in the exhibits and the extended programming, like the invitation-only Leaders to Leaders Forum and The Vine, focusing on “the nature of community,” are up more than 30 percent over a year ago, the Davidsons said.

While PCBC – known as a fun-filled event where friends and competitors network and share ideas – formally kicks off Tuesday, a pre-event gathering puts a new twist on it.

Working with Nadine Corrigan, a longtime San Diego marketing specialist, the Davidsons arranged for conference goers on Monday morning to board a couple of old-time railroad cars attached to a train out of Santa Fe Station. From there, they will travel to San Juan Capistrano, getting a tour of the coast and historical highlights about the California ranchos that are now home to communities like Rancho Mission Viejo and Camp Pendleton. They will then take a bus to tour the community being built on what is the last working cattle ranch in Orange County before getting back on the train when it returns via Los Angeles.

“It’s just another sign of the energy and momentum the industry in feeling,” Dawn said, adding that they tried to think outside the box as they were in the planning stages.

“Trade shows are evolving,” she said. “It used to be that exhibitors were what made the show, but the online world has altered that and the touchy-feely part has waned.”

Seeking more than just exhibits, they added a “Light up the Industry” campaign with sponsors having banners and lanterns hanging above the convention center floor to show their support for the exhibitors. They also included a charitable element that will see San Diego’s Habitat for Humanity and HomeAid San Diego get $4,000 each for their efforts.

And they are “building” a village of storefronts with a central square to welcome visitors. Dawn said it will include such things as a display by Farmer D Organics, with raised planting beds, caricature artists, musicians and even a Cheers-like bar.

Keynote speakers include local business leaders such as Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs, Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch and nationally-known speakers such as Richard Florida, founder of Creative Class Group, and Dan Pink, a best-selling author.

Bill said they applied what they do in the homebuilding industry to planning the conference. “We try to create excitement … hit people in the heart,” he said.

And, he said, he’s proud to show San Diego off.

“Twenty years ago we didn’t have a town like we do today.”

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