San Diego Comic-Con still wants a contiguous convention center expansion – but is it still a possibility?

San Diego Comic-Con still wants a contiguous convention center expansion – but is it still a possibility?

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In a rare public statement, SDCC’s David Glanzer wrote an editorial for the San Diego Tribune Union clarifying the convention’s stance on the proposed San Diego convention center expansion. Comic-Con International still favors the contiguous expansion that has been discussed:

We will say what we have always said: Comic-Con believes that a contiguous convention center expansion (one that is connected to the current facility) would be best for Comic-Con, and most beneficial for any large event San Diego might host in the future.

The ability to have all exhibitors under one roof is considerably more beneficial for attendees and show organizers. There have long been a variety of challenges facing Comic-Con in our desire to remain in San Diego that go beyond just a convention center expansion. But with the help of the current and past mayors, City Council members, local hoteliers and convention center staff, we have been able to successfully address many of those issues.

The Chargers have been making noise about including a convention center in their own hoped-for new downtown stadium, however Glanzer points out that the con has never supported this idea, and different areas and floors haven’t been a success in the past:

If a convention center is built across the street or blocks away from the current location, any convention considering an event in San Diego would be forced to determine who gets to stay at the main facility and who is relegated to the “other” venue. Comic-Con experienced a similar scenario some years ago when we attempted to create more exhibit space by moving some exhibitors upstairs to the Sails Pavilion. Even though all exhibitors were in the same building, the fact that some were only one floor removed from others caused a great deal of consternation as they objected to not being on what they considered to be the main exhibit floor. And while Comic-Con currently has some meetings and events offsite, with the exception of Comic-Con’s own T-shirt vendor, they are non-retail in nature, and some offsite event have no official connection to Comic-Con at all.

 

I think the under the sails Artist Alley was several years ago; given the shrinking nature of the current Artist Alley, I’m not sure they would be as grumbly with a different area now. However, offsite comics events still have a hard time getting traffic. Being part of the carnival inside the convention center is still the most desired location.

I took the liberty of reading the comments on the above story, which is the usual assemblage of local cranks and pundits. However, most people feel that the proposed convention center expansion is very unlikely given the requirement of a 75% approval in a public vote. In fact, a developer has just submitted a proposal to develop some of the marshland behind the convention center into a hotel complex, instead. My guess is that proposals and counter proposals will go on for years and the Adult Swim carnival is secure for now.

Meanwhile, the Chargers are still beating the drums for their own stadium plans, and I’m told, not being nearly as cooperative with the local government as the Comic-Con folks.

Not even mentioned in all of this are the decaying sails of the Under the Sails area– the SD Convention Center as it stands right now needs $32 million in repairs.UPDATE: AS nted in the comments, the money for this has been found, and the sails will be replaced after this year’s Comic-Con.

So what’s to become of the convention center? As we’ve noted before, while off-sites aren’t necessarily the best answer, they’re the only answer that currently exists. And as I’ve reported here, it’s believed some 60,000 people show up in San Diego for the convention without badges, just to enjoy the mardi gras.

There’s still some local San Diegan resistance to Comic-Con and suspicion that the current estimate of $140 million in local impact is still too high. I did a little poking around on this. An off-cited “Comic Con By The Numbers” piece actually uses numbers from a 2008 survey, and things have certainly changed a lot since then. The SD Convention Center itself has a lot of transparency with its reports, and you can read all of the recent ones here and specifically the 2016 forecast here. While Comic-Con is now acknowledged as the biggest event of the year, other industry specialist gatherings also have a significant impact.

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You’ll note that Comic-Con goers are still believed to be cheapskates. The average attendee is believed to directly spend about $636 per person based on this forecast. A gathering of neuroscientists, although drawing a mere 32,000 people, estimates $2025 per capita direct spending, and the ever popular Digestive Disease Week attendees will spend $1855 each. It was seriously worth looking at these reports just to learn about Digestive Disease Week.

Now, in years past, I called shenanigans on these kinds of numbers, since hotel rooms are generally way more expensive during Comic-Con than any other time of the year. However, I checked hotel rates during the Neuroscientist gathering, and whaddaya know, the local hotels have jacked up prices for this meeting as well! 

Hotels.com hotels in San Diego California United States of America.jpeg
PS: I guess this new Pineapple Hotel is a thing.

While you may think that brain doctors or gut trouble investigators couldn’t possibly be more spendy than all the Hollywood types who hit Comic-Con, for nerdlebrities every day is nothing but champagne and caviar. Brain doctors and gut trouble investigators probably have fewer yearly bacchanals and might spend more as a result. Hotel room prices for Digestive Disease Week are about in line with Comic-Con prices, and probably don’t have 6 people to a room:

DDW_2016_Hotel_Rates.jpg

So figure your average brain doctor goes for four nights and spends $1200 or so on a hotel. (Although the hotel nights per show numbers above don’t really add up but I’ll leave that alone for now.)  That leaves about $200 a day in spending. That seems high, but brain doctors have a lot more disposable income than cosplayers. So let’s leave these numbers as they are. 

If you figure the congoer’s per capita spending, it’s about $400 for a shared hotel room and maybe $50 a day. Averaging that out for high rollers and thrifty Thors and you have a ballpark. But not one the Chargers could play in. 

Still seems a bit low to me, but I don’t do this for a living.

Anyway, I doubt that thrifty San Diegans will be persuaded that they need to pay for a convention center expansion. I know several private studies have been made of con spending since 2008, but it would be interesting to see a more updated public one that takes into account the ebb and flow of local pricing. After peaking about four or five years ago, in the last two years, offsite spending was reigned in when local spaces jacked up their prices to levels even Hollywood balked at paying. While offsite carnivals and activations are still spectacular, there are fewer pop-ups and take-overs.

However, with the STILL increasing popularity of con culture, and characters like Deadpool, Suicide Squad and the new Star Wars cast just adding to the glamour and clamor, along with literally scores of new TV shows on dozens of new streaming and on demand TV networks to promote,  I expect those 60,000 lookeeloos to continue showing up–and branding and marketing companies to keep putting up attractions to keep them bedazzled. The spending will go on, but it maye be a long time before it reaches expanding the convention center.

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says

    Part of the higher economics of the medical conferences are the trade shows… you have people being wined-and-dined to sell the latest medicines and technologies, maximizing profits before the patents expire.
    .
    Like Washington, DC, much of that economic impact are expense accounts… either from salesmen, or from doctors who might gain licensing certification who attend on their hospital’s dime.

    Isn’t Artist Alley curated and/or subsidized by CCI?
    Are you going to complain if you have a cheap/free table?
    How much empty space is not utilized in the Hyatt? Could CCI do an SPX-style artist alley in a grand ballroom, and make it free to the public (to encourage spending and attendance)?
    Perhaps ComiXology could sponsor the cost of the room?

    While plans aren’t finalized, the Chargers suggest adding a 225,000-square-foot exhibition space underneath the field, at street level, plus adjacent meeting and ballroom space.
    Hall H is 64,842 square feet. Would people trek to “Chargers Center” for Hall H panels, and other big media panels? Could people “line up” in the stadium seating (with nearby restrooms and concessions)?

    Has CCI officially booked the center for 2017?
    Have they signed a contract for further dates?

    I see the following on the 18-month calendar:
    Private Convention with Trade Show 7/20/17 to 7/23/17 Convention with Trade Show 130,000

    What discount are they getting on rent?
    http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2013/jul/17/comic-con-rent-discount-convention-center/

    Meanwhile, the Chargers get one year to get the stadium deal done.
    Either they stay in San Diego, or they partner with the Rams’ new stadium and move back to Los Angeles.

  2. AzT says

    In re: “Not even mentioned in all of this are the decaying sails of the Under the Sails area– the SD Convention Center as it stands right now needs $32 million in repairs.”

    See:

    1/26/16

    http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Funds-to-Upgrade-Convention-Center-Sails-Pavilion-Found-in-Sacramento-366639361.html

    “We’ll redo the whole concrete floor first and then we’ll take a break,” Johnson explained. “And then we’ll wait for Comic-Con to happen, and then immediately after Comic-Con happens we’ll shut down the Sails Pavilion. And for the next six months we’ll be replacing the sails infrastructure.”

  3. AgentofChaos says

    Couple of things: A convention center expansion does not require a 75% vote for contiguous expansion. It’s only 2/3rds!

    Still, since the base question is “Do you want to increase taxes for the expansion?,” 2/3rds is pretty much impossible. That part is right. (San Diego was asked in 2004, after some of the worst fires in county history, to approval a tax increase to pay for more fire fighters and equipment. It failed with only 61% of the vote. They’re not going to get 67% for Con).

    Now, for some reason, the Chargers and Cory Briggs (leader of the ‘Citizens Initiative’ which would increase hotel Taxes to pay for the Stadium / Convention Center) think they only need a majority approval of the vote (50% plus one), but everyone else thinks that’s nuts, to say nothing of the practical matters involved in building an NFL worthy stadium in Downtown San Diego.

    If that gets built, I’m pretty sure CCI will end up using it since they’ve demonstrated a desire for as much space as possible. Even if they don’t like it.

    Also, CCI is in San Diego through 2018. Now, I’m pretty sure it’ll stay at the Convention Center, but they could move it elsewhere which is also pretty unlikely.
    http://variety.com/2015/film/news/comic-con-to-stay-in-san-diego-through-2018-1201533185/

  4. Milton says

    1. This is a fantastic piece of reporting (as usual) by Heidi. Kudos. It’s good to see some more depth and numbers in the analysis here, to clarify some of the claims that get thrown around.

    2. I did a deep-dive on the debate in San Diego, reading a lot of pieces in their press, discovering the insanely convoluted backstory and local politics that are playing out in this debate. I don’t live in San Diego, have no idea how this is going to turn out – but the momentum seems to be building toward a showdown in November where the interests of Comic-Con are going to go up against the interests of the Chargers. I hope I’m not wrong in my analysis here; I’m just a layman who’s read some articles. But the situation looks potentially terrible.

    The frustrating thing here is that it’s quite possible that the outcome is that Comic-Con attendees will:
    -not get the convention expansion
    -but end up helping shoulder the financial burden of building the new Chargers stadium
    -the core foundational infrastructure of which will, for political purposes, claim to be a “convention expansion”
    -but, in fact, be totally impractical and useless for Comic-Con, and probably be an empty facility most of the time

    Con-goers will see their hotel rates raise 5% – but see that money spent in ways that are detrimental to the long-term interests of con-goers.

    There seems to be an outrageous hypocrisy involving the process arguments in favor of the new Chargers stadium proposal. They’re relying on a financing scheme that’s remarkably similar to the concept originally agreed upon by the hoteliers for the convention center contiguous expansion. But that was thrown out due to a lawsuit claiming it was a tax without proper consent of the voters. And the lawyer who brought that lawsuit is now on the other side, using the same mechanism – and using it to achieve even *more* ambitious projects, involving higher risk and likely less financial reward – while also structuring the proposals to avoid the same level of voter sign-off. I’m no legal expert, from what I gather the legal arguments are in fact plausible and within the letter of the law of California’s strange voter-threshold standards. But the spirit of the argument rings hollow if not completely hypocritical. The original proposal was more narrowly focused and less risky for taxpayers, and yet they screamed taxation without representation. Now, they want to bring about a more ambitious proposal, with greater risk, and do so with less voter approval.

    My stance on CCI’s negotiations with the city has always been: sure, play hardball and try to make the best deals you can – and use whatever leverage you can to get the best for the con (and the city), but make staying in San Diego the supreme guiding principle. It’s just the perfect location for the event. But given all of these shenanigans, if Comic-Con attendees end up being asked to pay for the Chargers stadium and get a separate impractical way-way-offsite “expansion” thrown back as appeasement? I’d be fully in favor of the convention exploring relocation efforts.

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