This past weekend marked the second year of a Wizard hosted convention in the Southern California area. While the show is called Wizard World LA, it's physically held in the Long Beach Convention Center, about 30-45 minutes south-west of Downtown Los Angeles by car. They're two separate and distinct cities with their own local governments.
This isn't an unusual practice for Wizard Conventions. Many of their shows are held outside of the city proper. For example, Wizard World Chicago is held in the city of Rosemont, located very close to O'Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States, but about a 45-minute train ride from Chicago.
Things may be changing for Wizard World LA in Long Beach, though. In the back of the Wizard World LA 2005 convention guide it was announced that the convention would be moving to the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2006. This puts the convention in the city proper where it can truly boast being Wizard World LA, but the Los Angeles Convention Center is a very different beast when compared to the Long Beach Convention Center. They're radically different venues with very different implications for exhibitors and attendees. CBR News has taken a look at what this move may mean for the convention, taking in to account the positives and negatives of both locations. Before we proceed, though, a Wizard World representative told CBR News Saturday evening at the show that the move may not be final. CBR News did contact Wizard Conventions for comment Sunday evening, but as of press time have not received a response to our questions.
THE CASE FOR LONG BEACH
Many in attendance at the Long Beach convention this last weekend liken the area to a mini San Diego. Like San Diego, albeit on a much smaller scale, the Long Beach Convention Center overlooks the Pacific Ocean in downtown Long Beach, with a plentiful system of nearby hotels and restaurants. Popular chain restaurants such as Island's, Rock Bottom and others pepper the surrounding blocks with many major hotels within walking distance. The center is set-up quite nicely to support both trade show and public convention style business with amenities for all types of visitors. For the out of town visitor looking to bring the family along, there's a great deal of family entertainment at the adjoining pier and a variety of theaters available.
As for the all-important "bar con," the drinking and much merriment that takes place after the convention closes, there are plenty of bars and nightlife to explore in the immediate vicinity. Hotel and restaurant bars were packed with comic creators, Rock Bottom seemingly the nexus of all the activity this past weekend.
Long Beach's location is closer to Los Angeles than it is San Diego, but it's close enough that the show can pull attendance from San Diego to the south as well as Orange County to the south and south-east.
THE CASE AGAINST LONG BEACH
It's not Los Angeles.
Ask anyone who lives in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas how often they make it down to Long Beach and you'll find most say it's very infrequent. For most Los Angeles residents, Long Beach is a city you pass through on your way to San Diego. On a bad day traveling south on the 405 freeway (the main freeway which travels through Long Beach and connects Los Angeles and its suburbs to San Diego) it can take a commuter up to two hours to make the trek south. That drive should ideally only take one hour, but with traffic being an unpredictable beast in Los Angeles, you never can be certain. In fact, this reporter left the East San Fernando Valley mid-afternoon on Friday traveling to the convention center via the 405 and, along with a perfect storm of rain and accidents, it actually took almost three hours to make the 36 mile trip. Even that's unusual, but Los Angelinos are familiar with these types of scenarios and do their best to avoid them.
The traffic being what it is, there are other options for Los Angeles residents to get to Long Beach. One option is our lightrail system. The Blue Line metro system runs from Downtown Los Angeles south to Long Beach, with a stop just a couple of blocks from the convention center. Typically it would take an hour or so from Downtown LA to Long Beach, about a half longer when taken from the San Fernando Valley or Pasadena areas.
While this doesn't necessarily mean a resident of Los Angeles would avoid entirely going to a convention in Long Beach, most will think twice about it.
THE CASE FOR LOS ANGELES
The Los Angeles Convention Center is a massive facility. The available exhibition hall square footage puts it at more than three times the size of the space available in Long Beach. It's a true world-class facility that's played host to such events as the 2000 Democratic National Convention and the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, AKA E3, one of the most important events for the video game industry.
The convention center is located 8-10 blocks south of Downtown Los Angeles where you can find some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the city. The Downtown LA area has undergone a massive renewal project in the last five-ten years. Whereas previously most residents avoided downtown LA with a passion, the arrival of Staples Center, the sports facility located directly next door to the convention center that hosts Lakers and Clippers basketball as well as Kings hockey, has helped shepherd in a new era for Downtown LA. Many old, unused buildings have been converted in to expansive loft living spaces, loved by artists. The Walt Disney Concert Hall, the celebrated new opera house designed by architect Frank Gehry, is only minutes away from the convention center.
Traveling to the convention center is relatively easy these days. The center is located right off the 110 freeway, which connects to a number of different area freeways, pulling drivers in from all directions. There's also the option for Hollywood and San Fernando Valley residents to take the subway to downtown and exit at the Pico station which lets you off directly across from the convention center, a practice that's increased in popularity since the launch of Staples Center. Residents to the east of Los Angeles such as Pasadena could take a metro line from there directly to the convention center as well. It's rather quick and convenient and generally costs much less than having to park your car at near by parking lots.
From a sight seeing perspective, being in Los Angeles proper makes life very easy. By car it's approximately 10 minutes away from Hollywood, 20 minutes away from the eastern San Fernando Valley (home to Universal Studios) and 10 minutes away from Pasadena. The Sunset Strip is only 20 minutes away by car and Santa Monica's maybe 30 minutes away. All of this makes the location convenient for those interested in sight seeing or checking out LA. In Downtown proper there are some great old buildings and sights to visit, such as the Bradbury Building, famous for being the sight of many scenes in the film "Blade Runner," Olvera Street, Angel's Flight and others. Even at night Downtown offers a number of options for bar and club goers. And of course, with the Staples Center located directly next door to the convention center, you have the option of taking in a basketball or hockey game at one of the premiere sports arenas in the world. That is if you can score some tickets.
Its central location means the convention will pull attendees from the east as far as San Bernadino, to the west as far as Ventura, to the Santa Clarita Valley to the north and Long Beach and Orange County to the south.
THE CASE AGAINST LOS ANGELES
The Los Angeles Convention Center, as it is currently set-up, is really best suited for trade shows featuring companies with deep expense accounts. While there are plans for a great many new hotels and restaurants to come online in the next five to ten years, currently the options in the immediate area are limited. There's a large Holiday Inn directly across the street from Staples Center, as well as the Hotel Figueroa about three blocks towards Downtown LA, but beyond that there's very little hotel support within walking distance. There are plenty of wonderful hotels in the Downtown area such as the Bonaventure, the Wilshire Grand and The Standard, although these hotels don't generally come cheap and most attendees probably wouldn't want to make the walk from the convention center to the hotels at night. This, of course, could be helped with a bus shuttle system operated by the convention.
The number of restaurants in the immediate area can be counted on one hand. There's the Fox Sport's Skybox located next door. There's the hotel restaurant at the Holiday Inn, a new Palms restaurant a block away and a handful of restaurants just up Figueroa Blvd such as the famous Pantry, but there aren't any fast food destinations popular with convention goers. Like we mentioned earlier, you go on up in to Downtown LA and you can find yourself a wide assortment and style of eateries, but most won't want to make that walk. You do have the option of jumping on the metro and taking it to Union Station which is right next to LA's Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Olvera Street, the birthplace of Los Angeles and home to some of the best Mexican food you can find in LA. But once again, these aren't within walking distance and many may shy away from the rail line, especially at night.
As for nightlife in the immediate area, good luck. The "bar con" would certainly spread around LA and not be centrally located. The Skybox restaurant has a bar, but it generally closes by midnight. Most might find taking a cab in to Hollywood the best bet for night time entertainment, which means a scattering of comics professionals all over Los Angeles.
While Downtown LA and the area surrounding the LA Convention Center have improved dramatically in recent years, it's a far cry from the much more friendly conditions offered around the Long Beach Convention Center. Travel just three or four blocks to the south, west or east of the convention center and you'll find yourself in a, shall we say, very economically depressed part of town. Probably not somewhere you'd want to be walking around at night.
A convention in Downtown LA basically requires visitors to rent a car, adding to the cost of anyone coming in from out of town to attend the show. Plus, how many out of town visitors are really going to want to drive around LA? It's an intimidating city without a world-class public transportation system, so you're stuck driving whether you like it or not. Oh, and then there's parking at the convention center. The nearest lots often see prices of $20-30 a day during the larger conventions. If you park three or four blocks away, though, you can find yourself in the $3-5 dollar range, but we all know how heavy our bags filled with comics can get at a convention.
Wizard's first year show at Long Beach was, by all accounts, something of a surprise success. It established that Los Angeles is willing to support a show. While Wizard states their attendance numbers are higher in 2005 than in the previous year, most reports from exhibitors were that the floor was far less crowded than 2004 and sales were even less impressive. As a new show still trying to establish itself, is moving to a new location the right choice?
There are other questions that need to be answered as well. To begin with, why make the move at all? The convention this last weekend used only two of the three available exhibit halls, so expansion could still occur in Long Beach. Does the move to a huge facility like the Los Angeles Convention Center signify a move on the part of Wizard Conventions to establish a show the size of Chicago on the West Coast? Or even a rival to San Diego's Comic-Con International?
It's tough to launch a comics convention in the Los Angeles area. There's a reason why there's not really been a major, annual comics show in Los Angeles. There was an attempt at launching a new show at the Pasadena Convention Center by Creation Entertainment a couple of years back, but it was a miserable failure.
Running a comics convention is hard enough, but Los Angeles certainly seems to try its best to make it even harder.