San Diego has won a skirmish in its war with Los Angeles and Anaheim to retain Comic-Con International, but the outcome of the tri-city battle over tourism dollars remains in doubt.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, down to his final weeks in office, announced Monday that Comic-Con organizers have agreed to extend their contract to use the waterfront convention center by one year, to 2016, meaning that superheroes, villains, cyborgs and stormtroopers from around the globe will flock to the city for at least four more conventions, Sanders announced.
Comic-Con turns San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, adjacent to the convention center, “into a kind of high-tech ‘Twilight Zone,’ with some of the best people-watching you’ll ever see,” Sanders said at a triumphant news conference attended by city officials and Comic-Con organizers.
Los Angeles and Anaheim, with larger convention centers than San Diego, made major pitches in 2010 to lure Comic-Con away from its ancestral home in San Diego. By extending the contract to 2016, San Diego gains an extra year for its convention center expansion project.
This year the 130,000-plus attendees put $68 million into the San Diego economy.
Keeping Comic-Con has been a priority for Sanders, now finishing his second term. Both candidates to be his successor, Rep. Bob Filner and Councilman Carl DeMaio, have made retaining Comic-Con a campaign issue.
City officials have approved a $520-million expansion of the convention center to keep Comic-Con and other big-ticket conventions from departing.
But the plan is in court, where its controversial financing plan is being tested. The plan allowed local hoteliers, rather than voters, to decide whether to increase the room tax to gather funds for a convention center expansion; under the plan, the hoteliers get a slice of the revenue for promotional purposes, a novel and legally questionable tactic.
Additionally, the plan would need to win approval from the California Coastal Commission, which can be a lengthy process.
Since its beginning in 1970 in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel as a comic book celebration, Comic-Con has grown exponentially in attendance and cultural reach. In recent years, fans have grumbled about overcrowding and the speed at which the confab sells out.
As a stop-gap measure, organizers have arranged space at nearby hotels but have encouraged expansion of the convention center.
The 2013 edition is set to take place July 18-21.
– Tony Perry, in San Diego
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