There’s been yet another nail punched in the coffin of San Diego Comic Con, I don’t know how long this can continue before they fall apart entirely. I’ve complained about Comic Con many times in the past, how it’s too crowded, how San Diego simply cannot handle the massive influx of people, but over and over, Comic Con continues to sign on for more years in the entirely inadequate city.
However, recent events have made it more clear than ever that they cannot hope to have an event this size and keep it in San Diego.A year or two ago, San Diego promised to double the size of the convention center to handle Comic Con, which is the only event that happens in San Diego all year that needs anywhere near that much space. They only did this in response to rattlings that Comic Con might move elsewhere. Recently though, San Diego backed out, both because a judge found that their funding, imposing a tax on existing hotel rooms, was unconstitutional. Environmentalists also claim that an “environmental impact study” has shown it’s dangerous to the bay’s ecology. This has stopped them from carrying through on their end of the bargain. Essentially, that ought to make the agreement signed between Comicon and the city null and void and make the way clear to moving to the only other venue in the United States big enough for such a massive event: Las Vegas.
Now I understand why Comic Con doesn’t want to go. San Diego has been good to them, they have given them all kinds of tax breaks and bent over backwards to keep the convention for more than 40 years. This is the single biggest event of the year in San Diego, it inflates the population of the city by almost 15% for one weekend and brings millions upon millions of dollars to the city’s economy. However, no matter how much San Diego wants Comic Con there, that doesn’t mean that San Diego is large enough to house the convention.
So in a clear display of the problem, Comic Con has announced that they will be raffling off parking spaces for the convention by lottery. There simply are not enough parking spaces in the city to handle the influx of cars. So what do you do if you already paid for a ticket, yet lose out on the lottery? You can go to the convention, you just have nowhere to park your car. Now what? It isn’t like you can just sell your ticket to someone else, they’d have both the same problem and if violates the rules of the convention. You can’t just get your money back because there’s a 10% penalty for returning your tickets. You lose money because San Diego is too small for the convention. Add to that the fact that most of the parking lots in San Diego, at least as I remember them, aren’t really built to be entirely blocked off for pre-registered parking. They’re open with somewhere to stick your money after you park. What does the person who won the lottery, but who gets to San Diego and finds their spot already filled do?
Here’s the thing. The San Diego Convention Center has a total space of 2.6 million square feet. It claims to have 11,000 hotel rooms within a reasonable distance, although they do not define what that reasonable distance is. 11,000 hotel rooms is not nearly enough for a convention that draws more than 130,000 people every year, with many, many more than that wanting to come.
Las Vegas, however, has a convention center with more than 3.2 million square feet of exhibition space and another 250,000 square feet of meeting space. They have more than 100,000 hotel rooms available within walking distance. It doesn’t stop there though, there are multiple convention centers in close proximity that have more space than Comic Con could ever use. The Cashman Convention Center has another 125,000 square feet of space, the Mandalay Bay Center has 1.6 million square feet and the Sands Convention Center has 1.2 million. All together, Las Vegas claims to have more than 10.9 million square feet of space available city wide. Best yet, Las Vegas has a monorail system that directly connects all of these facilities so fewer busses would be necessary than SDCC pays for now. I’m sure they could cut a deal for Convention attendees to ride the monorail between convention centers for free.
The only larger venues are in Chicago and Florida, both of which are inconvenient to the Hollywood crowd which continues to call SDCC home. Vegas is also perfect for that, it’s even more convenient for people from the major population centers in California and maybe it might help spur California to widen the 15, which is often clogged with people just going to Vegas anyhow.
Yes, there are some potential downsides. Las Vegas isn’t going to kiss their ass nearly as much as San Diego because Las Vegas hosts massive conventions all the time. Comic Con isn’t special and that’s what they’re used to. They’d be paying the going rate and not getting the entire city catering to fannish interests. Of course, they’d also be able to open the floodgates to whoever wanted to attend. Instead of having a cap at 130,000 people or whatever it is, they could have 150,000 or 200,000 or 250,000 come and that would be a massive influx of money to the convention. Also, there is already a Las Vegas Comic Con at the beginning of the summer but it isn’t as large by any means, nor does it take place in the big convention centers. I’m sure the city would have no problem having two conventions, especially one that brings in tons and tons of money and people every single year.
There really has to come a time when SDCC has to move. They know it, everyone else knows it, it has far outgrown the city that spawned it and even though I started going to the convention back in the mid 70s, I haven’t attended in at least 5 years because of all of the problems that plague the venue. All of their scrambling to get around the issues have failed, all of the promises haven’t come to fruition, San Diego is too small, too badly laid out and frankly, too much of a mess to make it worthwhile any more. Time to move on and up to greener pastures where Comic Con can still grow, instead of being stunted as it has been for the past decade or so. Make the right decision and take your leave of San Diego. Maybe they can start another smaller convention of their own in the wake of Comic Con International’s departure.