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Pow! San Diego fights other cities to keep Comic-Con

28 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Superheroes aren’t the only ones fighting foes at Comic-Con International, the gigantic comic book convention that runs July 23-26 downtown.

The San Diego Convention Center and the city itself are warding off adversaries from other cities who want to lure away the iconic event, which generates millions of dollars in revenue each year.

“We’re working hard to keep them in San Diego,” said Steve Johnson, vice president public affairs at the San Diego Convention Center Corporation. “The economic impact to San Diego is profound.”

In the last three years, the homegrown event has been busting at the seams of the San Diego Convention Center, spilling over into other venues downtown, such as Petco Park, Horton Plaza, and the Midway. Overcrowding, traffic and parking problems have also hampered the event.

Tickets — for 126,000 attendees in the last two years — have typically sold out two months in advance.

“We limit the amount of attendants, because we don’t have the ability to get people through the building,” said Johnson.

As a result, convention centers in Los Angeles and Las Vegas have been courting Comic-Con organizers, with representatives from the Las Vegas center visiting last year’s event, according to news reports. Convention centers in those cities leave plenty of elbow room.

But San Diego’s leaders are not giving up anytime soon. The event means too much to the city economically and culturally to let it move away at the 2012 conclusion of its contract with the San Diego Convention Center.

Comic-Con generates $16 million in direct spending and $38 million in indirect spending for the city, said Johnson. This means that the event’s 126,000 attendees each year drop $16 million on services such as hotels, car rentals and restaurants, which has a ripple effect throughout the economy of more than double that amount.

“When you bring that kind of money into the region, it’s like a rock in a pond,” said Johnson.

San Diego’s hotel occupancy rate during Comic-Con is the highest for the county during the entire year, said Johnson. Occupancy rates for the county’s 54,000 hotel rooms average 98 percent each day during the four-day event, he said.

Comic-Con also serves as a cultural touchstone for San Diego. Since its launch in 1970, the event has grown from an underground gathering to a mainstream movement that attracts comic-book fans to videogame producers to Hollywood film studios.

“You can’t separate the power that Comic-Con has in defining San Diego as a destination for comic book junkies as well as pop culture junkies,” said Johnson.

San Diego Convention Center Corp. is working with the city’s special task force to expand by some 200,000 square feet of space to the backside of the building, said Johnson.

Mayor Jerry Sanders launched the Convention Center Task Force in January to explore how to expand the center. The 17-member group is looking at architectural, policy and funding options this month, and it is expected to provide a final report by September, said Bill Harris, deputy press secretary for the mayor.

Part of the challenge is that the center sits on port tideland governed by the state of California, which is managed locally by the San Diego Port Authority, said Harris.

Comic-Con organizers are also “valuable partners” in creating plans for a center expansion, said Harris, although Comic-Con organizers did not reply to interview questions submitted last week for this story.

What else is the city doing to keep Comic-Con? Harris won’t say.

The convention center’s Johnson is also keeping mum. “That would be showing our cards to the competition,” he said.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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