Comic-Con nudges dollars north

Convention spreads wealth across county

Selling out to more than 126,000 participants two months before its opening today, Comic-Con is a definite boon to tourism in downtown San Diego. And although there are few numbers to support anecdotal claims, hoteliers and restaurant owners in La Jolla, Del Mar and other northern communities said their businesses are also benefitting from the four-day, comic-inspired convention.

Launched in 1970 as a one-day "mini" convention held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego with 300 people in attendance, Comic-Con is now one of the premier comic-themed assemblages in the country. It has maxed out space at the San Diego Convention Center the last couple of years, and passes for the 2009 event sold out in record time.

With a focus on comic art, film and science fiction, the conference has evolved into a showcase for classic and pop culture television shows, movies, books and literature, offering fans a chance to meet actors, creators and characters while celebrating their genre of choice.

David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for Comic-Con International, agreed: "One of the things we have always thought is that comic books and pop culture are as viable a form of entertainment as any other. What seemed to have happened over the years is other people seem to have noticed that and started attending the show."

Spreading out

As Comic-Con continued its steady growth - sort of like The Blob - the impact on local businesses also increased.

"We expect attendees to spend over $16 million," Johnson said, money that will be shelled out for everything from food and hotels to transportation, souvenirs and entertainment.

Aside from ticket and merchandise sales at the convention itself, one of the biggest expenditures for comic fans is lodging.

More than 36 hotels, most of them located downtown, set aside rooms specifically for Comic-Con attendees. But given that this event results in the four highest days of hotel occupancy throughout the county for the entire year, many people are forced to find lodging elsewhere.

Seeing 'the characters'

"There is absolutely no question that every year Comic-Con has an impact on rooms here in this market," said Terry Underwood, general manager of the Grande Colonial La Jolla. "We see not only an increase in demand many weeks out for the dates Comic-Con is in town, but we also see the characters in the hotels."

That compression also spills over into northern San Diego County, said Robert Rauch, chairman of San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"There are some years that it's more impactful than others," Rauch said. "I would generally say that number one, Comic-Con impacts Mission Valley, then the UTC area, then the village of La Jolla and then Carmel Valley and Del Mar. It has a broad reach."

Expanding reach

It's not just hotels that are benefiting from Comic-Com dollars. Fans gathering after convention hours, visitors extending stays to enjoy the Southern California amenities and corporate events are just some of the expenditures with a "green" impact.

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