SDCC: Convention Center expansion — the negatives

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We’ve linked to articles by San Diego local Don Bauder before — he’s a definite gadfly who doesn’t accept the status quo, and he has a lot of questions about the proposed expansion of the San Diego convention center and the task force report. Although we’re in FAVOR of the San Diego con staying in San Diego, were we locals we would be very cautious in a community that has already seen major fraud and instability from the local government. A convention center expansion is a project rife for kickbacks and questions should be asked.

Heywood Sanders, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the ranking national authority on convention centers, has read the draft report by the mayor’s task force purportedly studying convention center expansion, and concludes is it full of dubious statements based on distorted statistics. He says that the heralded growth of convention center business is based almost entirely on the growth of Comic-Con. In fact, the Rock and Roll Marathon and Comic-Con account for one-fourth of attendance, he says. San Diego may dump money into a convention center expansion just to keep Comic-Con. But the decision on where Comic-Con will go is up to Comic-Con, not San Diego, Sanders points out.


This is a healthy piece to read for its skepticism…BUT, it repeats the canard that San Diego has a lot of locals who don’t spend money. That may PARTIALLY be true…but then WHY ARE HOTEL ROOMS SOLD OUT ALL THE WAY TO CARLSBAD? Can’t there be some happy medium between fiscal responsibility AND admitting that Comic-Con is a huge event that spends tons of money in the local economy?

Okay I read this a bit more closely, and thanks to this link in the comments, I’ve found the transcript of Prof. Sanders’ — characterized as a “Whack job” by one Convention Center employee — remarks to the task force, and it does appear that he was misquoted. and he uncoveres–as have several before him–the mystery of San Diego’s hotel room situation, which I’ll quote with some context.

These are the figures for primary event attendance and total hotel room night generation by year provided to me by the SDCC. What is intriguing about these to me is after the expansion, how the primary attendance number rises very rapidly, but the hotel room night number does not show much of an increase from the peak years in the 1990s. This has for me, for a very long time presented an intriguing kind of analytical conundrum. Part of the reason, obviously, and this is taken from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report is that several large events, notably Comic-Con, the two ASR trade expos and the Rock N’ Roll marathon, generate large attendance volumes without necessarily generating very many hotel room nights. Indeed Comic-Con, for all its size, appears to generate the hotel room night demand, according to the convention center’s numbers, of about a 7,000 attendee medical event. If I pull those numbers out of the attendance numbers, that Steve Johnson of the Center was kind enough to give me, but the Center could only generate after 2000. You’ll see what the expansions impact actually looks like on that black line labeled adjusted attendance. Then we have some information on the attendance and room night generation for a number of large recent events. I didn’t highlight the Comic-Con numbers there but I think you can see these numbers are rounded. They are from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. They are slightly different from the Center’s numbers because they rounded them. Comic-Con at 123,000 attendees with 20,300 hotel room nights. And then you’ll see right above it the American College of OBGYNs, 7,000 attendees at 21,000 room nights.


Well, that is indeed a “conundrum.”

Reading the comments, it seems thatthe entire CC expansion is caught up in a lot of local politicking (SHOCK!) and the kind of stadium mall and facility building that consultants always want to approve whether the people need them or not. And in the middle, one of the biggest events of the year, Comic-Con.

San Diego The Southland really needs to come to terms with its nerd needs–who needs who more, the city or the Con?

Comments

  1. Charles Knight says:

    “it repeats the canard that San Diego has a lot of locals who don’t spend money”

    From a quick skim, no I don’t think it does, it suggests that

    a) the comic con’s methodology of counting everyone who attends as “out of town” and generating average spend figures on that basis is deeply flawed

    b) That the point about locals spending money seems to be not that they don’t spend money, that they don’t spend *more* of their disposal income that they would otherwise on other purchases – and that they are spending it at an event that requires heavy public subsidiaries and therefore is not as effective in the local economy as spending it at an unsubsidised cinema or bowling alley.

  2. Charles Knight says:

    An important nudge about attendance

    “Instead, Sanders was puzzled that convention attendance figures didn’t seem to correlate with statistics on hotel room nights generated by those conventions. Sanders told me today he was unsure of the data Convention Center officials had provided him.”

    http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2009/09/01/government/thehall/766sanders082809.txt

  3. Heidi, “the Southland” refers to the greater Los Angeles area, not San Diego.

  4. There’s all this talk about a bigger convention center, but I’m more worried about if and when they get more hotel rooms. If there’s nowhere to stay, it doesn’t matter how big the center is.

  5. Charles Knight says:

    “There’s all this talk about a bigger convention center, but I’m more worried about if and when they get more hotel rooms. If there’s nowhere to stay, it doesn’t matter how big the center is. ”

    That assumes the numbers attending the convention would increase significantly, one of Haywood’s points is that he’s never found any evidence of this being a straight relationship.

  6. Actually, it’s kind of refreshing to see some push-back from the San Diego community. After all, California’s flat broke and a dramatic expansion of the Convention Center seems pretty foolhardy for only one or two events that need more space. I still think they should try staging several events off-site, spread around the San Diego area, before expanding a building that’s large enough for 95% of its customers.

  7. The Beat says:

    This is my favorite quote from the piece:

    “In the report, San Diego claims that it is “unique.” Sanders has studied hundreds of cities, and they all say they are unique, he says.”

  8. If there are only two events that require the additional space, wouldn’t it make sense for those two events to shoulder the burden of the expansion costs? If the Comic Con organization is hell-bent on staying in San Diego, then tack on an extra $10 to $15 per attendee (trust me, they’ll pay it) to go toward a dedicated expansion fund. Assuming the Rock & Roll Marathon’s cooperation, a good-faith partnership between the two events and the city of San Diego could go a long ways in getting community support (and perhaps some tax breaks) for the expansion. Something like this could also do wonders in counteracting the “Serve Us!” fan-entitlement mentality that *demands* more room for Comic Con, which certainly doesn’t help endear our little sub-culture to the people of San Diego. Making it more of a civic-minded partnership could make a convention center expansion a reality.

    Or we could just keep bitching about how crowded it is.

  9. I’m sure it can’t be this simple, but is it possible that there are exactly 21,000 hotel rooms available within range of the San Diego convention center?

  10. Miles Lazarus says:

    Expanding the size of the Convention Center without a matching increase in available hotel space makes no sense whatsoever. Not being able to find a hotel room within a reasonable distance seems like a primary limitation for people wanting to come to the show from out of town. Where are all of these extra people going to stay?

  11. Charles Knight says:

    “I’m sure it can’t be this simple, but is it possible that there are exactly 21,000 hotel rooms available within range of the San Diego convention center? ”

    It’s room *nights* – so that 21,000 would be over the life of the convention – that’s why he’s making the point the news provided don’t add up because they are the same as a medical convention with 7000 people attending (so roughtly 7000 x 3 days), while 123,000 attend comic-con for 4 days and yet the same amount of room nights occur – so about (guestimate) 5000 or so a day.

    So either the number of people attending is inflated, the number of people staying in hotels is too low, or must people attending are local or something else – but it means that the figures don’t really stack up as they are presented.

  12. but it means that the figures don’t really stack up as they are presented.

    The way Comic Con attendees stack up in hotel rooms (three to a bathtub!) might explain some of the discrepancy. I guess it depends on how “room nights” are counted, ie. based on the room, or based on the occupancy?

    Medical convention attendees would each have their own room.

  13. Part of that “something else” could be the out-of-towners who are staying with friends who live in-town, have leased boats or “executive condos” for the week, or are otherwise staying in places that don’t get counted in the Convention Center’s statistics.

    Also, San Diego is only a 60-to-90-minute drive from Greater Los Angeles. When I lived in Riverside, I would sometimes attend the con during the day and then drive back home at night, so I could sleep with my wife. I don’t think I was very unique in commuting this way.

  14. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Suddenly, I’m less interested in the convention center than I am about Scott’s wife.

  15. Synsidar says:

    People might recall those articles which stated that hotel room occupancy in North County during Comic-Con was about 80 percent. I wondered what “North County” was; turns out that it’s just the northern part of San Diego County, which includes San Diego suburbs.

    SRS

  16. Charles Knight says:

    “Also, San Diego is only a 60-to-90-minute drive from Greater Los Angeles. When I lived in Riverside, I would sometimes attend the con during the day and then drive back home at night, so I could sleep with my wife.”

    Which would tie into those spend numbers being inflated – how many of those people simply drive home every day without spending a dime in the local area?

    I can’t be bothered to run the numbers properly, but even when you account for those sorts of things, those hotel numbers still stink.

  17. The “We need more space/hotel rooms/community respect” sentiment seems to be a bizarre inversion of that old “Build it and they will come” line from “Field of Dreams”. In this case, it’s “If they come, then you must build it.”

  18. Well… all the stories about not being able to get a room, not withstanding, did the stereotype of 5 fans sleeping on the hotel floor just get invoked?

  19. Chris M says:

    Is it possible that they only count the hotel rooms that are actually booked through Comic-Con’s hotel reservation service? The ones that sell out in 15 minutes every year? It would be a lazy but easy way to do the accoutning to count only those rooms instead of trying to estimate how much of the other occupancy on that weekend could be attributed to Comic-Con. Smaller conventios held in off-season with business travellers paying higher rates could easily block out rooms for all their guests and have all those rooms counted in the economic impact statements, while Comic-Con finds it can only block out some maximum number of rooms at a discount rate no matter how many guests it has.

  20. The Beat says:

    *SIGH* where there is a lot of shenanigans going on here, but the FACT I’ve seen reported elsewhere is that during Comic-con hotel occupancy is 98%. A few years aho I did a count of hotel rooms near the convention center using the Travel Planners site, and, it came to about 16,000. Allowing for all the new hotels it’s probably more like 20K now. So the 21,000 room night figure is not *not accurate.*

    There are all kinds of games being played here. Whack job or not, Prof. Sanders is correct in that if you look at the figures provided by the ConVis, IT DOES NOT ADD UP.

    In fact in THIS post you see Steven Johnson GLOATING about how all the hotel rooms of San Diego are FULL UP during the con. And a vigilant poster here at the Beat did the math and found a rounded number to compute the economic impact used for every show BUT Comic-Con

    My guess? The OBGyn’s are overestimated a bit, and Comic-Con is UNDERestimated a bit. However this last fact has come back to bite people in the ass because to make the case for a bigger convention center, you need to show taht the biggest show, SDCC, actually has a big economic impact, something they have been hiding for years.

    Good stuff!

  21. “you need to show that the biggest show, SDCC, actually has a big economic impact, something they have been hiding for years.”

    Out of curiosity, who are “they”? And why would “they” hide that information?

  22. The Beat says:

    They?

  23. Yeah, who are the “they” that are hiding the Con’s big economic impact?

  24. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Haters.

  25. You know, that “mystery” of just how many HOW MANY hotel rooms are taken up by Con attendees can be solved somewhat by CCI:SD releasing the figures on just exactly HOW MUCH of that 125K attendee figure are from OUTSIDE the San Diego area— the data is right there on the ticket registration form!

    Even granting the (likely) possibility LA-area Con goers are commuting to the event like Scott above, what about attendees from further out? No doubt Con goers from San Francisco/Phoenix/Las Vegas/Chicago/NYC are amongst those who rent out those San Diego hotel rooms during the event… that is, if they weren’t shut out by the people from Honolulu/London/ Tokyo/Manila/Sydney taking up those same rooms!

    [Insert “Hotel Day” booking nightmare here.]

    If ONLY 1/5 of the total SDCC attendants are from outside San Diego, that’s 25,000 non-locals who’ll need room and board every July— easily overwhelming that stated “21,000” hotel room number. If that fraction is MORE, say a 1/4 or even 1/3 of the 125K (which I’m guessing is closer to the actual figure), then?

    CCI:SD could do a service and release these data— who knows, it might sway the local politicos in approving the Convention Center expansion plans a lot quicker, by showing how all these out-of-towners are bringing in all that $$$s to the local economy! Imagine even MORE non-SDgans coming to the Con with that BIGGER and BETTER(?) SDCC!

    (Unless of course, should the data prove otherwise: 118,000 of Con attendees ARE San Diego locals… and ONLY 7,000 are out-of-towners who divvy up those “21,000 rooms” amongst themselves? )

  26. “”Which would tie into those spend numbers being inflated – how many of those people simply drive home every day without spending a dime in the local area?””

    It can’t be a very large number. I’m not sure where Scott gets his 60-90 minute drive, but it must be from either the distant future (where we have rocket cars, 30 lane highways and AutoBahn speed-limits) or the distant past (where he had one hell of an engine against inferior law enforcement vehicles). Anyone whose driven from SD to LA knows it’s at least 2 hours without traffic. It’s at least 50 miles to the very south of Orange county. And it’s not an easy drive.
    Same goes for the I-15 to Riverside and Vegas, at least fifty miles to Riverside and that area has gotten a lot more crowded thanks to the housing bubble. To say nothing of the kind of fuel costs you’ll incur making that trip twice a day AND paying for parking. Staying within fifty miles of the Convention Center means you’re paying to stay inside San Diego (unless you’re staying in Tijuana, but that’s a different story).
    No, if you’re going to the Con for more than one day, staying local is the smarter and saner move. Otherwise it’s self-flagellation.

  27. Unwritten says:

    “Otherwise it’s self-flagellation.”

    That’s how I feel about attending Comic-Con regardless of the details.

  28. I am wondering if number of available hotel rooms throughout the year not just comic con would be a good barometer to decide if we need an expansion. If rooms are booked throughout the year than we probably could support more convention traffic. But if San Diego hotel rooms are empty most of the year than I would assume they are just pumping money into a construction project that will loose San Diegans lots of money down the road.

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