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By Lori Weisberg
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 3:52 p.m.
Comic-Con, that whimsical show that for decades has been delivering costumed superheroes and Hollywood celebs to town, will be here five more years, ending months of speculation that San Diego’s largest convention might head north to Anaheim or Los Angeles where hotel rates are cheaper and exhibit space more plentiful.
Ultimately, Comic-Con International’s decision to stay, which will be announced Friday morning, hinged on detailed contracts negotiated with the 64 convention block hotels committing them to prescribed, discounted rates through 2015. Concerns had arisen in recent years that some local hotels took undue advantage of the enormously popular event by charging excessively high rates, especially in downtown where rooms sell out quickly during the four-day July confab.
Comic-Con’s current contract with San Diego’s convention center expires in 2012, which led organizers to begin looking elsewhere for the years 2013 to 2015.
In the end, San Diego proved to be a sentimental favorite for organizers of the convention, which debuted in 1970 as a relatively small gathering of devoted comic book fans.
“We’ve always had a desire to stay in San Diego, and we had three amazing proposals,” said Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer. “It was obviously a very difficult decision, one born out by the amount of time it’s taken to make that decision. But in the end San Diego was able to address a lot of our concerns.
“It’s never been a secret we’d hoped to stay here, but the real challenge was that those who want to attend the event can afford to attend, in terms of size and space and cost.”
Estimated to deliver an annual economic bonanza of $163 million to the San Diego region, the pop culture phenomenon was wooed aggressively by rival convention cities who offered lucrative deals capitalizing on convention organizers’ long-held concerns that they had outgrown San Diego’s smaller center.
While the bids were confidential, it was rumored that Los Angeles offered convention space at no cost.
At one point, competition for the convention grew so fierce that Los Angeles and Anaheim tourism officials launched dueling Facebook fan pages designed to demonstrate the depth of their commitment to nabbing Comic-Con. San Diego fans, however, had already debuted a month earlier their own “Keep Comic-Con in San Diego” Facebook page, which has roughly seven times the number of fans.
Despite being disappointed by the decision, Anaheim tourism officials remain optimistic that Comic-Con could eventually come their way in the future. “We certainly recognize how difficult a decision this was by virtue of how long it took,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “We understand it was not a unanimous decision by Comic-Con so clearly there is interest in alternative locations so that gives us hope for the future.”
Although the city has plans to significantly expand the center and is in the midst of selecting an architect, funding must still be identified for the $750 million project.
Recognizing Comic-Con’s more immediate need for added space for exhibitors and the more than 130,000 attendees that flood the city, San Diego’s three waterfront hotels — the Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego Marriott and Hilton San Diego Bayfront — committed to providing roughly 300,000 square feet of their meeting space free of charge in 2013 through 2015. In addition, the Convention Center Corp., working with local hotels, was able to double the number of dedicated convention hotel rooms to roughly 14,000.
As much as holding onto the convention had become a matter of civic pride, more important are the huge revenues that come San Diego’s way each year the event is held. A 2008 survey of conventioneers found that direct spending alone on hotels, meals, transportation and related costs totals nearly $68 million a year.
Add to that the worldwide publicity the convention commands because of its Hollywood star power, and it’s no surprise that city leaders and hoteliers often liken Comic-Con to having a Super Bowl in town ever year.