Comic-Con International, the organizers of the San Diego Comic-Con, announced on Friday that they will remain in that city through the summer of 2021. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the deal  ahead of this summer’s event which will open on Wednesday, July 19. The agreement extends by three years the existing 2015 contract that was set to expire after next year’s convention. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the key point of the negotiations focused on gaining commitments from 56 downtown San Diego hotels to cap their daily rates during the run of the show.

Comic-Con's home, the San Diego Convention Center proposed expansion

Proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, (source: City of San Diego)

Attendees frequently note the high cost of rooms and the distance from the convention center as negatives to an otherwise enjoyable experience. Rooms at the block rate often sell out within minutes of being released. And, even though Comic-Con operates numerous shuttle buses to surrounding hotels, it can take 30-60 minutes of travel time.

Capacity also a sticking point

San Diego Comic Con's main exhibit hall

A look at the SDCC exhibit floor a few minutes after opening on July 24, 2016 (photo courtesy Tom Seeling)

First held in a San Diego hotel ballroom 48 years ago, San Diego Comic-Con has grown considerably. The 2,600,000 sq ft bayside convention hall is packed throughout the four-and-a-half day event. Events are also held throughout downtown San Diego in The Gaslamp District and beyond.  In addition to the official events, media companies and others rent out local businesses for the week to host parties and promote their shows. The SyFy Channel, for example, takes over the Hard Rock Cafe with a theme promoting an upcoming show.

San Diego Comic-Con's "Fantastic Beasts" panel

Newt Scamander gets his wand from Newt Scamander. (Photo courtesy of David Schulman Photograph

However, it is the capacity of the hall itself that remains a major concern for Comic-Con organizers. “We have had to cap our attendance for many, many years so our income level is different and we have to be aware of that,”said Comic-Con International spokesman David Glanzer during the morning news conference outside the center’s famous Hall H. “But again, with the efforts of the mayor, the Tourism Authority, the hoteliers, we’re able to make what we have work.” San Diego Comic-Con had to cap its attendance beginning in 2006 to address fire safety and capacity concerns. An estimated 130,000-167,000 people attend each year.

San Diego faces increased competition from the cities of Los Angeles and Anaheim to host the pop-culture celebration. They have both increased the size of their respective convention centers. Los Angeles recently expanded to 720,000 sq ft and plans on further expansion in 2019. Anaheim just completed their two-year expansion project to 1,600,000 sq ft. Anaheim already hosts Blizzard’s BlizzCon, Disney’s D-23 Expo, Anime Expo and Comic-Con International’s own WonderCon.

Thwarted expansion plans

San Diego made plans to increase the size of the center by 33% in 2012. The construction would have been completed by 2016. A lawsuit put those plans into limbo in 2014. However, in January of this year, a judge ruled in favor of San Diego paving the way for the city to seek funding. Alex Spanos, the owner of the then-San Diego Chargers football team, attempted to create a mixed stadium-convention center project that would have blocked any further expansion. San Diego voters rejected that project this past November, further clearing the way for the convention hall’s expansion.

The Future

Mayor Faulconer plans a special election for November 2017 to fund the $600 million expansion project. Funding would be from a hike in the hotel room tax by up to 3%. It faces opposition from developers of a proposed 44-floor luxury hotel, although other hoteliers support the plan. Comic-Con adds several million dollars of income to the city budget annually. A previous mayor described the economic impact as, “equivalent to hosting the Super Bowl each year.”

Comic-Con International is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the much smaller, but rapidly growing Salt Lake City Comic Con. The dispute is over ownership of the name “Comic Con”. The San Diego organizers claim ownership dating back to 1970. The Utah group, for their part, claims that the term pre-dates that use. Founder and Station Manager, Gene Turnbow is taking part in two panels at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. His first appearance is on Heroes of the Mic – a podcasters and radio arts panel. The panel takes place on Thursday at 1 pm at the Neil Morgan Auditorium in the San Diego Central Library, one of the many off-site locations surrounding the convention center. Gene’s second appearance is Full Time Creativity on a Part Time Schedule. This panel discusses how to get your creative project or company going when it isn’t possible to do it full-time. It takes place at 3:30 pm in Room 213 on Sunday.


Wyatt D. Odd

Wyatt D. Odd