by Chris Eaton-
EXCLUSIVE: You’ve heard the rumors, now get the story on Anaheim vying for geek mecca
We here at the Realmcast have been following the ongoing drama and suspense behind the potential move of Comic Con.
I’ve taken special interest in this news, as well, for I’m a life long Con attendee.
See, Comic Con is well aware of the outpouring of complaints made by its attendees. The place is packed most of the time with little room to move. The lines for panels would make Disneyland blush. Hotels, well, lets not even stick our fingers in that ant hill of a problem (unless you want to read about it here). With this in mind talk began to swirl about a possible move from Con’s home town of San Diego to cities to the north: Los Angeles, Anaheim, even Las Vegas was mentioned. This was mostly hearsay until it was pretty much confirmed a few months ago that Comic Con was seriously contemplating a move. Noting this, the city of Anaheim, home to Disneyland, and 2 world champion sports teams, made their play to host the first Comic Con International outside of San Diego in 2013. Much like the bid for the Olympics, there’s a lot at stake for the winning city. As an Orange County resident, living only 6 miles from downtown Anaheim, I had mixed feelings about all of this. Could Comic Con work possibly in Anaheim? I made it a mission to find out.
With a few phone calls to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitors and Convention Bureau, I was put in touch with Elaine Cali, the Vice President of Communications. After a brief chat, she graciously set up a meeting with Bureau President, Charles Ahlers and Media Coordinator, Bobby Taylor. After this meeting, I can safely say that any doubts I had about Con moving to Anaheim were squashed.
When I talked with Mr. Ahlers, I brought up the question of when Anaheim started making the bid for Comic Con. Turns out, Comic Con came to them first. Since the beginning of the decade the heads of Con have visited the ACC (Anaheim Convention Center) to get a lay of the land, if you will. Like Nostradamus, the Con heads foresaw the growth of the convention and knew that San Diego could not house them forever. Anaheim, being only about 100 miles from San Diego, seemed like a no-brainer. The ACC is the biggest on the west coast. This back and forth went on for a few years. It’s safe to assume after last year’s Con, the Convention heads knew that something had to be done. With that in mind, they paid a visit to the ACC this past January for the NAMM convention (National Association of Music Merchants). The show hosted about 90,000 people, close to the average number Comic Con at any given hour. Upon seeing the NAMM show the Con heads took what they saw into consideration and made a proposal to Anaheim. Now nothing is set in stone and as of the writing of this story San Diego announced plans to increase the size of their Convention Center. However, that plan won’t be complete until 2015.
Knowing full well that a move from San Diego to Anaheim would rattle the cage, the Bureau began a media campaign, online and in print, to give their side of the argument. Bobby Taylor, social media coordinator, set up a Facebook page to state their case and quell some unfounded stories of Anaheim. If you take a gander at the postings on the page it’s very clear that opinions are cut down the middle. Many people just fear change and can’t accept a move. Others just plain bad mouth Anaheim as having no social night life. My argument to that and San Diego’s Gaslamp quarter has always been this: Con isn’t about boozing it up after hours. You’re there for Comic Con and not drinking and clubbing afterwards. Though that’s not to say that there isn’t anything to do after hours in Anaheim.
During the course of this interview, many of my questions to how Anaheim can best San Diego in the convention going experience were laid to rest. Hotels, for instance. San Diego has had its issues with hotel rooms in the last few years. Rooms are pricey and many are not within walking distance of the convention center. Anaheim on the other hand, especially downtown, was built for tourism and conventions. On the Anaheim Convention Center Campus alone there’s a Hilton and a Marriot. Both are enormous in size and add the benefit of having convention ballrooms themselves. In the Hilton, you literally walk out the door of the hotel, and walk no more than 20 feet to the doors of the convention center. In less than a 1/2 mile from the convention center there are 26 affordable hotels. Beyond that, another 67. With Disneyland right next door every establishment is competing for your business, which keeps hotel room costs down. Add Shuttle services to the further hotels, it’s a win for everyone.
Traffic and Parking. Unlike Downtown San Diego, Anaheim is pretty much straight and wide. The two main streets that intersect with the convention center, Katella Ave and Harbor Blvd, are large, main artery streets. Traffic, even on the busiest of days, isn’t that bad. With 3 different freeways in the immediate area for out of town traffic to exit out of, and no one way streets like in San Diego, traffic would be far more manageable. Parking at the convention center usually ranges from $10 to $15 a day. The local hotels and motels, for the most part, do not charge for parking. If you’re coming from out of the area, but still live close enough to drive home, Disneyland has satellite parking lots, not to mention that there are several local free parking sites in walking distance. The bonus of having Disneyland near by is that any parking price hijacking has been quelled. The savings in money alone would be a Godsend to many, like my self, who end up blowing more than $100 bucks over the course of a week just to park near the San Diego Convention Center.
A pet peeve of mine when attending Comic Con is usually dining out. If I want to grab a bite to eat during the day I have to fork over $8 for a pretzel and a coke. The only fast food is a Wendy’s that’s about 5 blocks up. A decent sit down place is all and good, and Gaslamp has several of those, but they are all packed at night! In the Downtown Anaheim area there are the following:
On top of that, there are Subways, McDonald’s, Taco Bells for people on the cheap within walking distance. Add that to the food court on the convention center campus, you’re set.
When we finished our interview, we (myself and site photographer and podcast member Johnathan Rosas) were taken on a tour of the campus by Mr. Taylor. In this tour, the crucial question of can the Anaheim center hold Con. As a 16 year veteran, most definitely yes. The convention center has a million and a half more square feet than San Diego’s. It doesn’t look it from the main streets though, but that’s a bit of an illusion. The way the convention center is situated, from Katella Ave, all you see is the Hilton, a parking garage, another building that looks kinda thin, and an arena. If you were to walk up onto the campus (an important point to call it just that in a moment) you would see a walkway between the Hilton and the building behind the arena, you’ll be walking in front of the convention center. Baby, does that thing stretch!
The first thing you’ll notice is a beautiful walkway that’s shaded by dozens of palm trees. Looking around you, you’d think that the place was just built yesterday. There are concrete benches to sit and talk or enjoy the breeze that passes through the walk. There’s no trash of any sort laying around, no gum on the sidewalk, and I was hard pressed to find even a finger print on the glass windows. Once you enter, then it’s a whole other ball game.
Walking into Hall A, and taking a look around (my first since Anime Expo 2006) one gets a sense of awe at just how big this one hall is. When I attended Anime Expo, I believe that only Hall A and B were in use, and there was plenty of room to go around. Before we moved to the other halls, Bobby escorted us into the arena, which is connected to the convention center (a fact I was ignorant to!) The hall that connects the arena to Hall A is as big as many of the ballrooms at con. I kept this in mind as we stepped into the Arena.
The arena, hands down, would make a much better location than Hall H currently is. Why? Well, first off, it seats almost 1000 more people than Hall H. Second, the structural design. With stadium seating, the large screens that hang in Hall H would be unneeded. A stage can be set up against one of the walls (which I was told that D23, the Disney Con, did) and really, no matter were you sit, you have a straight view of any stage. The floor could hold many more seats and with the circular design, one wouldn’t be that far from the stage at any time. There are plenty of places to queue the line to enter that are in the shade, or indoors in the AC that would be a far better experience than sitting out in the sun on the humid grass at San Diego. No more heat stroke or sun burns!
Upon leaving the Arena, we walked through Hall A. We were very fortunate this day that there was nothing planned for the weekend, and the center was empty sans maintenance workers keeping the place in shape. Fortunate also in the fact that for the first time, I saw the walls pulled back and the entire convention center opened up to view. We wondered around a bit, and visuals of potential booth set-ups flooded my mind.
- Hall A- Can house the studio’s over-sized booths. It being next to the Arena entrance, the theme would work perfect.
- Hall B- Game booths, Indy film booths, and other miscellaneous
- Hall C- All the large and small comic companies
- Hall D- Dealers and Artist Ally
With this in my head, seeing how the floor could work efficiently, we headed up stairs to the second floor.
From the second level, you get a bird’s eye view of Downtown Anaheim, Disneyland, Anaheim Hills and more. As you’ll see, there are 35 different meeting rooms. That means:
- More options for panels
- More panels running simultaneously
- Distribution between panels- Adult Swim, TV or the bigger comic panels can be in the larger room, and keeping the more unique panels in the smaller rooms to accommodate the people who wish to see them.
- Large Patio area- Photo ops, outside booths, freebie table
We finished our tour of the second level and moved to the third.
The third level is similar to the second, but differs in that there’s a large ballroom on this floor, comparable to Ballroom 20 in San Diego. This room is massive and nicely decorated. This ballroom would be perfect for events like Star Wars night and the yearly masquerade. There are several more smaller ballrooms that can be used for things like game rooms or press rooms. There’s another large patio area and a smaller one on the opposite end. It’s this three story structure that I feel gives Anaheim it’s edge over San Diego.
Upon leaving the convention center and back down stairs, I took notice of just how clean the place was. Everything in this center looks brand new. I was informed by Mr. Taylor that the utmost care is taken to keep the center in shape. Upon entering this place, you’d swear that it just opened. Clearly a point of pride with the city and center officials.
My tour and interview finished, Johnathan and I roamed the “campus” as it’s referred to. Everything in the Anaheim center is very tightly knit. There’s room to move around, places for photo ops, and plenty of shade. It has a very college campus feel to it. Across the street, we watch the ferris wheel at California Adventure spin and could hear the roller coaster roar as it spun on it’s looped track. Some might see Disneyland as a deterrent, but I would say different. Disney, along with all of the other studios who’ve made their presence known at Comic Con, have a stake in the convention moving closer. With cutting expenses on rooms, the closer distance to Hollywood and the greater Southern California area, it would bode well for every star-crazed person who attends to see celebs to have the studios only a hop and a jump away. Instead of a 2 hour drive, it’s 40 minutes tops, and that would leave the door open for more celebrities to attend. That’s good for Con, that’s good for the studios and that’s good for attendees. On top of that, I have a strong feeling, and while nothing was confirmed other than the term “in talks” was used, don’t be surprised if Disney offers special travel packages for a potential Con week. I know many people who have been hesitant to travel to Comic Con that would show up in a heartbeat if it meant a day at Disneyland.
So, can Anaheim do it? Can they provide a possible new home for Comic Con International? I say yes. With Con’s current attendance, there’s plenty of room to go around. In talking with Mr. Ahlers, he made it quite clear that Anaheim could house Comic Con even with potential growth in attendance, without it turning into a mirror of San Diego’s current situation. Hey, there are a lot of people who like to attend now, and I’m more than sure there are many that were pissed off royally that 4 day passes were sold out around October. More room, means more people can attend, and more interaction. That’s good for Con, good for Anaheim, and good for everyone that wants to go.
If you’ve noticed, I’ve barley made mention of L.A. or Vegas in this article. For the most part, knowing that Comic Con plans to stay in Southern California, I know that Vegas is out of the question. L.A. on the other hand, has no where near the accommodations that Anaheim has. Let me make it known from the Bureau’s side, they’re not here to bash or run anyone through the mud. All they’re doing in their bid for Con to come to Anaheim is just to make their point heard. Since I live in Southern California, and I’m writing this article, I’ll gladly take sides and bash. The Los Angeles Convention Center is a terrible choice for Con. Why?
- Convention Center is smaller than Anaheim
- The area is suspect has hell
- Parking is nightmare, and costly
- Lack of hotels in walking distance
- And, Downtown L.A. just plane sucks. Everyone heads to Hollywood or Santa Monica to do anything fun. Con would be insane to choose this place.
I’ll finish with this. Comic Con, to me, is very special. It’s more than just a yearly get together to buy some books, take some pictures, and meet some B list celebs. It’s a place were my Dad took me as a young kid to spend some father-son time. It went on to become a yearly tradition to get together with close friends, hang out, and completely be who we are. A bunch of rowdy geeks! There really isn’t any other place like it. Sure, many have tired, but never came close to capturing the magic of Comic Con. Something like it doesn’t last for 40 years for nothing. After this visit, I think I’ve finally realize that it’s not the location, but the atmosphere it’s self that makes Con great. If Con dose decide to move, there would be no better choice than Anaheim. Hell, I say just give it 3 years, see what happens. I think that after one year at Anaheim, many nay sayers would change their tune. After all, the would could use more happy geeks than angry ones.
If you would like to get a better visual of what we mentioned, check out our gallery of the ACC, Downtown Anaheim, and the near by hotels.[Album not found]