Comic-Con is here to stay, at least through 2018, under a two-year deal announced Thursday by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
The new agreement between the city and Comic-Con International follows months of back-and-forth negotiations that hinged on the willingness of dozens of local hotels to hold the line on their room rates, which tend to soar when the always sold-out convention is in town.
The pop culture confab, which will get under way next week, had been under contract to remain in San Diego through next year. The city has been trying since last year to secure a commitment from organizers to remain in San Diego for 2017 and 2018, despite a failed effort to expand the city's bayfront convention center. So important is the Con to the city that the mayor intervened in negotiations to persuade hotels to meet Comic-Con's request that they keep their room rates affordably priced.
Spokesman David Glanzer acknowledged, as he has in the past, that negotiations were sometimes difficult and that the final wording of the agreement only came together in the last couple of days.
"I will be honest, it was touch and go for awhile. and while the process has not always been easy, it was always productive," Glanzer said during a morning news conference to announce the new pact. "I can't thank the mayor enough for his personal determination to have this end on a positive note for all involved."
Comic-Con, which is San Diego's single largest convention, with 130,000 attendees and an estimated economic impact of nearly $136 million, draws worldwide attention because of its high-profile celebrity panels and appearances by Hollywood studios, major toy companies and top video game producers. It long ago outgrew the confines of the convention center, although organizer did not make a future contract with the city contingent on an expanded facility.
In recent years, the convention has taken advantage of surrounding venues downtown, including Petco Park and waterfront hotel ballrooms, for special events and programming, and this year will also make use of the new library in East Village.
"We would love to see a contiguous (expansion) space, we've made no secret of that, but the truth of the matter is, as our president has said, he doesn't see any shovels in the ground and we've moved forward accordingly," Glanzer said.
As part of its effort to protect Comic-Con attendees from overly high rates for always in-demand lodging, organizers sought agreements from the more than 50 hotels in its discounted room block to not raise their rates above contracted 2016 levels and to commit to at least the same inventory of rooms for 2017 and 2018. Most of the hotels in the current block of Comic-Con hotels are concentrated in downtown and Mission Valley and this year are charging rates that range from a low of $166 for the Days Inn-Hotel Circle to a high of $380 for a deluxe room with concierge service at the San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter.
The new agreement covers a Comic-Con room block of 52 hotels, or 13,102 room, during peak nights of the four-day convention.
While San Diego has been the home of Comic-Con since it began 45 years ago as a modest gathering of comic-book enthusiasts, rival convention cities, such as Anaheim and Los Angeles, have in recent years been courting the annual July meeting to relocate to their centers. Anaheim has hosted Comic-Con International's sister convention, WonderCon , for a number of years, although next year, that convention will be in Los Angeles.
While adequate convention exhibit and meeting space is crucial for Comic-Con, so too is an adequate supply of nearby hotel rooms. San Diego boasts that it has some 12,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the downtown center, while Anaheim's center has 8,000 rooms within a mile and more than 14,700 rooms within 3 miles. Downtown L.A.'s hotel supply remains a work in progress, with some 3,100 rooms currently in walking distance and an additional 1,650 under construction or in the final planning stages, said Shant Apelian, spokesman for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
Although an appellate court earlier this year ruled that the city's financing plan for a planned $520 million expansion of the San Diego convention center is illegal, Faulconer vowed Thursday to enlarge the facility. His office is awaiting the outcome of a $90,000 study to analyze the pros and cons of alternative expansion scenarios that could guide the city on how it wants to proceed in the future.
"It's critically important to this city and to our economy that we have an expanded convention center," Faulconer said. "We will figure out the right approach, we will figure out the right funding mechanism. That's what we will be doing in the months ahead but I will tell you we are going to do it."
Efforts to seal a deal with Comic-Con took longer than expected because a small group of hotels had balked at discounting their rates during the four-day gathering. A few years ago, as an inducement to keep Comic-Con from straying from its hometown, the Convention Center Corp. agreed to discount the center's rent, which has remained flat at $150,000.
The first full day of Comic-Con will be next Thursday, with preview night set for Wednesday.