Decision on Comic-Con's future delayed until after this year's event

Although organizers had hoped to make an announcement about the future of Comic-Con International before this year's event kicks off on Thursday, they now say a decision won't be made until after this week's convention is over.

Three cities -- Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego -- are embroiled in a bidding war for the event, whose contract with the San Diego Convention Center expires in 2012. At stake is the $163 million that Comic-Con's 125,000 attendees pour into the local economy each year.

A decision by the Comic-Con board of directors has been expected since at least April. However, efforts by the three competing cities to sweeten their offers have contributed to repeated delays. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports the current hold-up stems from a request made in May by convention organizers for San Diego hotels to sign contracts guaranteeing room rates for the next five years.

“I don’t think all the hotels have signed contracts yet," spokesman David Glanzer tells the newspaper, "and the truth of the matter is, because the situation won’t be resolved this week from our end, I think this is being tabled right now. We’re already spread thin right now. Ninety-nine percent of our time is ensuring the show is successful.”

The delay is worrisome enough that Mayor Jerry Sanders last week began calling hotel managers to urge them to finish the contracts.

Although San Diego has been home to Comic-Con for 41 years, the event long ago outgrew the city's convention center. In April, the San Diego Port Commission approved a land deal that's a major step toward a $753-million expansion that would give the venue about 815,000 square feet of exhibit space, roughly the same as what the Anaheim Convention Center now has. However, by 2013 the Anaheim facility will have expanded to about 1 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space (in addition, there are more than 20,000 hotel rooms within a mile of the convention center).

If the San Diego expansion plan clears all of its hurdles, the renovated facility would be ready by 2015. To entice Comic-Con to remain until then, the city's three waterfront hotels have committed to providing for free 300,000 square feet of meeting space from 2013 to 2015, while the Convention Center Corp. has pushed the number of dedicated convention hotel rooms from 7,000 to 14,000.

The Los Angeles Convention Center has less exhibit space than Anaheim's -- about 720,000 square feet -- but boasts the nearby L.A. Live entertainment complex with its 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre, the 59,000-square-foot Club Nokia, the 14-screen Regal Cinemas and the 20,000-seat Staples Center. While hotels rooms within walking distance are in short supply, the 1,001-room JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel complex opened in February next to the convention center.

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