San Diego Comic-Con reveals museum plans, prepares for summer 2021 opening

Comic-Con Museum organizers, Melissa Peterman, David Glazner and Patti Roscoe in front of the Comic-Con Museum.
Comic-Con Museum organizers, Melissa Peterman, David Glazner and Patti Roscoe pose in front of the future home of the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in San Diego, CA.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The nonprofit plans for a sort of yearlong Comic-Con in Balboa Park


Comic-Con International revealed its museum plans Thursday after a three-year wait with the intention to bring a piece of the pop culture juggernaut to Balboa Park year-round.

San Diego Comic-Con said it will open its museum in summer 2021 and will have two art galleries, a theater, rotating exhibits, outdoor seating, a gift shop with exclusive merchandise, cafe and an extensive education center. It will be the first museum to open at the park in nearly 20 years.

The stakes are high for the museum with organizers, and community leaders, betting it can reinvigorate an underused part of Balboa Park and be a beacon for tourism in the city once the pandemic is over.

“We want to do our part to contribute to San Diego as a thriving city,” said Melissa Peterman, head of development for the museum. “We also want to create something that is sustainable.”

Renderings of Comic-Con Museum's atrium.
Renderings of Comic-Con Museum’s atrium. The Balboa Park museum will open in summer 2021.
(Comic-Con International)

Comic-Con said it made the announcement this week because it is at the halfway point of its fundraising goal of $34 million. The roughly $17 million gathered so far has come from fans that gave as low as $10 to big contributions and sponsorships from AT&T, DC, U.S. Bank, Cox Communications and others.

City of San Diego officials gave Comic-Con the 68,000-square-foot former San Diego Hall of Champions building in March 2017. The sports-themed museum had been in the park since 1961. The lease was signed by John Rogers, the convention’s long-time president who died in November 2018.

A unique aspect of the museum will be a cafe (with alcoholic beverages) and programming for adults in the evening when most museums in the park are closed. The museum’s hours are not yet decided. The bar of restaurant Panama 66 in the park stays open until 10 p.m. some nights, which may indicate how late Comic-Con’s cafe could operate.

Miro Copic, a marketing lecturer at San Diego State University, said Comic-Con is a unique draw and its museum should bring in plenty of locals and out-of-town visitors. Its success will depend on how well it keeps up with pop culture trends — much like the convention itself.

“Comic-Con is an ongoing, living, breathing organism. It really morphs and changes,” he said.

In the convention’s more than 50-year history, it has gone from a relatively small group of comic book and science-fiction fans meeting in tiny venues to an international phenomenon that draws the biggest names in Hollywood. While the core product — comic books — might have diminished in importance, it has raised the profile of its characters.

On Tuesday, when much of the park was shuttered and crowds were thin, the Laskis family of Scottsdale, Ariz., looked with curiosity at the building that will house the Comic-Con Museum.

Adam and Emma Laskis said they visit San Diego every year and were coming back from a visit to the San Diego Air and Space Museum with their sons, ages 3 and 1, as they stopped to look at the Comic-Con sign. They said they were excited to visit the Comic-Con Museum when it opens and their 3-year-old son is a fan of Captain America, star of many Marvel films.

“We want to expose our kids to as much as we can,” Adam Laskis said.

Comic-Con, a nonprofit that also runs Anaheim’s WonderCon, has been slow to release information on what the museum would look like. In October 2019, the executive director of the museum, Adam Smith, left after two years on the job. The organization characterized Smith’s leaving as the end of a “phase one” of museum planning and it would now enter a “phase two.”

Since then, Comic-Con’s board of directors has handled seeing the museum to fruition. One of the people in charge has been Peterman, who leads development at the museum. She has been with the Comic-Con organization for 2 1/2 years after a career working with homeless housing efforts at the San Diego Housing Commission. She has degrees from San Diego State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Peterman said the museum will not be finished when it opens next summer, but will continue to be worked on and completed in phases until 2024. One of the things that will be done by 2021 will be its education center on the second floor, with classes Comic-Con says will be centered on creativity. It said the space can be used for graphic novel clubs, field trips and summer camps.

She said the idea is to use pop culture as a learning device, from increasing literacy to getting children interested in careers in creative industries. Another factor is giving back to the community and having something worthwhile for the park.

“We don’t take for granted we are in Balboa Park and are surrounded by amazing institutions,” Peterman said. “We want to do our part to lift up Balboa Park.”

A center of activity will likely be the atrium, a central space that takes up two floors and will have a large video screen for movie screenings or other uses. The space can also be used for events with people on stage and room for 500 seats. There is a theater in the basement level that will be refurbished.

As part of its announcement, Comic-Con named 19 members of a steering committee for the museum to be chaired by Patti Roscoe, a convention industry veteran and the founder of AlliedPRA.

A few key details are missing from Comic-Con’s announcement, in part because of pandemic-related uncertainty. It does not have an opening date or ticket price information.

The space was designed by architects LPA San Diego, based in Barrio Logan. Photos show large murals of comic book art on walls, a Comic-Con style panel in the atrium and a second-floor classrooms. There is plenty of pop culture props in the images, even a gigantic dragon, to hammer home the feel of the place.

Comic-Con received input on what should go into the museum from fans who completed surveys and participated in brainstorming activities.

The space has not been dormant while Comic-Con made plans. It was used during Comic-Con in 2019 as a celebration of Batman on the character’s 80th anniversary, hosted a mini-comic convention during the Maker Faire in 2018 and has hosted other small events.

This summer’s museum opening will be the biggest for Balboa Park since the San Diego Natural History Museum opened its revamped building in 2001. Comic-Con’s spot in the park has much less foot traffic than other parts, but it is going through a bit of a renaissance.

The Palisades section of the park where the Comic-Con is located, near the San Diego Air & Space Museum and San Diego Automotive Museum, is having its parking lot converted into a pedestrian zone with updated amenities.

“There’s more to our end of the park than a parking lot,” Peterman said.