Secret weapon may keep Comic-Con in San Diego

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SAN DIEGO — An “evil empire” is making a play to lure Comic-Con out of San Diego, but there is a secret weapon to prevent the pop culture convention from leaving its roots.

Officials in Anaheim, about 100 miles north, have not been shy about wanting to steal Comic-Con from San Diego.

“We love it and think any group the size of Comic-Con would love a city like Anaheim,” said Jay Burress, CEO of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Comic-Con was born in 1970 in the basement of the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. Decades later, it moved to the San Diego Convention Center where it’s been since 1991. What started out as a mini-convention with just a few hundred people is now a four-day worldwide phenomenon that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and A-list celebrities to San Diego.

Comic-Con has maxed out the space inside the San Diego Convention Center. With the center’s expansion plans stalled, SDCC may be ready for a change of scenery. Realistically, it could be as soon as next year when its contract ends.

“If they’re going to continue to grow, they’re going to get to a point where we can’t accommodate their needs,” said Joesph Terzi, CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “I think Anaheim is a legitimate competitor.”

Over the past four years, Anaheim has proven success with growing WonderCon, Comic-Con’s sibling. It attracted more than 60,000 guests over its annual three-day event.

FOX 5 checked out WonderCon in early April to explore what Anaheim can offer that San Diego cannot. Here are the five main factors:

  1.  Space – Anaheim’s Convention Center has the largest exhibit hall in the region.
  2. Hotels – There are more than 13,000 rooms within a mile of the complex.
  3. Spillover tourism – Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney are right across the street.
  4. Parking – Once the center’s expansion is done it will have triple the amount of space. The city also recently opened a state-of-the-art transportation hub, which offers quick shuttle service and access to trains, taxis and buses.
  5. Cost of hotel rooms – Out of 54 hotels in SDCC’s convention block, only four hotels have not signed on for 2016 to keep rates competitive.

David Glanzer, spokesman for Comic-Con International, said the key stumbling block in reaching a deal for future years in San Diego is the cost of hotel rooms.  In 2014, discounted room rates ranged from $161 to $381 a night.

“We want to keep it as affordable as we possibly can for attendees, because well, without them we wouldn’t have an event,” Glanzer said.

While talks are continuing, Comic-Con organizers and city officials are optimistic the event will remain in its birthplace. The cost of hotel rooms is the one factor that San Diego has room to negotiate. It could be the secret weapon the city can use to keep the convention in town.

“I’m hoping that we can make it work,” Glanzer said. “We’ve done it for 45 years. Let’s see if we can do it for a few more.”

“I’m not a betting man,” Terzi said. “But I would bet on Comic-Con being a San Diego convention for years to come.”

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