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How Does Comic-Con Affect San Diego’s Economy?

Aired 7/21/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

With tickets selling out in less than seven hours this year, Comic Con is an event that many San Diegans are looking forward to. Comic-Con is expected to attract over 125,000 visitors a day and contribute millions into the the City of San Diego. How is this affecting San Diego's economy?

With tickets selling out in less than seven hours this year, Comic-Con is an event that many San Diegans look forward to. Comic-Con is expected to attract over 125,000 visitors a day and contribute millions into the the City of San Diego. How is this affecting San Diego's economy?

We will talk to SANDAG's chief economist Marney Cox, as well as the Marketing and Public Relations Manager for the Gaslamp Quarter Association, Brandy Shimabukuro about the business generated from this weekend.

Guests:

Marney Cox, Chief Economist for SANDAG

Brandy Shimabukuro, Marketing and PR Manager for the Gaslamp Quarter Association

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: The premiere pop culture event of the year, San Diego's Comicon opened today. The four-day celebration will attract miles an hour a hundred and 25,000 people to the Convention Center, and a variety of other venues downtown. We'll be giving a live report from ComiCon central in a few minutes. But first, if you're not going to ComiCon what's in all this for you and for the rest of San Diego? Joining me it talk about the economic impact of ComiCon are my guests, brandy Shimabukuro, she is marketing manager for the gas lamp quarter association. Brandy, hello.

SHIMABUKURO: Maureen, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: I'm great, thank you for joining us. And Marney Cox, a frequent guest on our program. Chief economist with the San Diego association of governments. Hello, Marney.

COX: Hi, Maureen, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Great. Thank you. We often hear that ComiCon adds millions to the local economy. How exactly does it do that?

COX: Well, the first thing is it does is offers an attractive venue for people outside the San Diego region, come here, spend 3 or 4 days in our hotels and restaurants, enjoying the venues they have at the Convention Center. And while they're here, they depend on the services and foods and other products we produce in the San Diego region. At the end of the four-day, hopefully they have had a great time, and they go back to their normal lives and leave all of that economic contribution here to the region.

CAVANAUGH: We have heard when we have had super bowls come to San Diego, there's been mixed results as to whether or not the economic impact was that strong. How much money is ComiCon expected to bring into our economy?

COX: The estimates I've seen range for about $42 million up to a little over $60 million over the entire four-day event, in terms of direct spending. It's somewhere between ten, maybe $15 million per day that those hundred and 26,000 attendees would spent both in terms of hotel rooms, and restaurants, and other kinds of things they might buy while they're at Comicon T-shirts shoes, whatever, here in the San Diego region.

CAVANAUGH: Brandy, you represent the gas lamp quarter. You're the marketing manager for that association. How much of San Diego outside the gas lamp quarter is affected by Comicon.

SHIMABUKURO: Just with the high amount. Attendance that comes out for this, it's in terms of local food and costume, and out of town guests. There are a high concentration of hotels in downtown San Diego, but the amount of attendance we get from out of town guests, they swarm into North County, La Jolla, PB, ocean beach area, and obviously mission valley. So this is something San Diego wide.

CAVANAUGH: Do we fail, Marney, to factor in sometimes the cost of preparing for Comicon.

COX: Well, that's true. All we've talked about so far is the revenue side, right? I think we need to be a little bit careful here because some of that revenue the restaurants, were in the business of providing whatever service is necessary. And the cost of the food they're serving incorporates any costs they would have. So it's primarily the public sector in the event that there are additional costs on the public sector that may not be corped here. And that's possible. But remember, the transient occupancy tax which directly go the to the city where the hotel room is located, the retail sale it is tax generally flows back on the jurisdiction. Some studies have shown that there's probably almost a break even point where the revenue contribution just about makes up for those additional services that the jurisdictions must provide. But I think it's clear that from the private sector's side, this is probably one of the highest hotel/motel occupancy time periods during the entire year when ComiCon is in town. And when totals reach capacity, they have a tendency to sort of boost up hotel rates. And when they do that, they charge more than they typically would. So that means that they're going to be better off, right? Because of that demand this year. So there's definitely probably from the private sector's point of view, a good profit margin made on the ComiCon visit to San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Do we have, Marney, any idea how much it actually does cost the City of San Diego to put on this convention? I'm thinking maybe extra traffic patrol, security, that kind of thing?

COX: No more or les I'd guess than most large either events or conferences it may take at the Convention Center. So typically when a city sets up its budget early in the year, it knows in advance what types of things it may be impacting with over the course of the year. And ComiCon has been coming to San Diego for some time now. So provided those costs are incorporated into the building in advance, it doesn't come as a surprise. Ask they're capable of being able to handle that. And my guess is they work closely with the Convention Center to insure that in the event that there's something required over and above a particular year that's not normal, they figure out how to cover that cost.

CAVANAUGH: I want to call out to any gas lamp business owners. I realize it's 12:30 in the afternoon, and the lunch crowd is probably pretty heavy;. But if indeed you have a moment to call in and tell us how you've gotten prepared for this weekend of ComiCon and what you're expecting from it, our number here is 1-888-895-5727.

COX: One other story, I was driving in this morning in a typical route, I passed one of the places that offers a parking garage and it always has a sign out, $10, early birds welcome. Today it was $30.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

COX: Yeah, exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. I see how that can just increase somebody's take home, yes. Brandy, just in case all those business owners are a little too busy to call in, I'm sure that they have had plans far in advance to prepare for this weekend. What have you seen certain businesses do?

SHIMABUKURO: They've really rolled out the red carpet in terms of bringing people in true the door, whether it's promotions or complete rebranding programs. One of our own businesses here in the gas lamp has completely rebranded with cartoon network with complete renovations inside. It's partnerships like that, where it's deals and motions with ComiCon badges and costumes, it's preparing for the high quantity of food traffic they're going to be seeing coming in through the door, throughout the weekend.

CAVANAUGH: When you say they've redecorated inside, what does it look like?

SHIMABUKURO: It looks like you've walked into a cartoon. Green astroturf, mascots that are walking around, people in costumes, they're giving out freebies, and special deals and that sort of thing. It's a very fun, whimsical look. Where you're at lieu and mickey's where you can charge up your electronics and that sort of thing. There's a definite feel to ComiCon in the gas lamp. You can think of it as a Halloween for the ultimate nerd dom, or the super bowl's nerds. . There's a fun feel of upon pop culture here.

CAVANAUGH: Some of the businesses that have occurred to the gas lamp because of ComiCon. What other freebies do you know about, brandy?

SHIMABUKURO: There are a number. Places where if you come in with a ComiCon badge or if you you're just in the spirit of it, you can get discounts on your food bills. They're offering special previews over at the institution show room for the new sea games with sonic racing on the iPad and that sort of thing. They're doing a free review for marvel event coming up next year called the monstergeddon. There are a lot of activities here in the gas lamp that you can go take advantage of it, and a lot of them are free.

CAVANAUGH: Marney Cox, we've heard that ComiCon -- you already told us that businesses are kind of boosting some of their prices because of the people in town. We've also heard though because of the demand on hotel space that San Diegans have taken to renting out their homes, sometimes even parts of their homes. What have you heard about that, Marney?

COX: That's a very interesting one. I think it may be more applicable to the type of convention that ComiCon is also. A much younger crowd, willing it take up residence in unique places, where either rooms or willingness to share a room with someone might be the way to go. So you see a lot of things posted on various websites, listing that opportunity at a lower cost than you might find a hotel room for. There seems to be a lot of that going on too. And that unfortunately is one of those things that we can't capture by the number of hotel rooms times the cost of renting it, and the tot tax. There's other revenue that's exchanging hands and staying in San Diego that's associated with sort of those entrepreneurial rooms being let out.

CAVANAUGH: How much does San Diego County need a boost like this right now?

COX: Our unemployment rate is over 9% today. So this ComiCon as well as other conventions and visitor attractions we have here in San Diego during the summer time always add a tremendous number of lives to people with not necessarily the -- Hawaii skills, but are looking for either an entry level or a steady job. So this comes along at a really good time, especially in light of the economic conditions, not only our region faces but the entire nation for that matter.

CAVANAUGH: And brandy, we often hear that the Christmas shopping season can make or break a year for retailers. Has ComiCon become crucial to some gas lamp downtown business owners?

SHIMABUKURO: It definitely does make or break a season for them. But more than anything else, with a program that's this big, it's destination marketing at its best for San Diego as a whole. It puts San Diego on the map for a lot of people who wouldn't normally think of San Diego beyond Balboa Park or Lego land or sea world. But there are more things to San Diego than just being a beach town or touristy destinations. And that's what ComiCon really shines a light on. It highlights that San Diego offers so much more than that.

CAVANAUGH: Can you both tell me what are some of the peripheral economic fallouts from Comicon brandy, I think you just touched on one in the idea of more people becoming aware of the city as a vacation destination, somewhere to go, and really enjoy their time here. But I'm thinking of perhaps things we wouldn't often think about, perhaps what the people who are putting on events at ComiCon actually need to put on those events. Does that fallout affect a larger aspect of the economy, Marney?

COX: Well, you know yes. But the more times it happens than those provide either support services or needs to the ComiCon probably get pretty used to it, they begin to depend upon it. They know it's going to come in. They probably stay in touch with the vendors throughout the year, looking forward to it, seeing if there's any changes so they're probably pretty well prepared. The problem would become is if it didn't show up, and they were anticipating it being here, they felt this stuff would fall by the wayside. Having said all this, one other thing we gotta keep in mind here, it's not like San Diego's Convention Center would be empty if ComiCon wasn't here, right?

CAVANAUGH: Right.

COX: It would probably have some other activities. They would try it book it for other kinds of things. This particular one is unique in the sense that it fills up the entire space. There's such a demand for it, there's probably a lot of spillover going on throughout the economy that we're not able to account for because of the attraction to ComiCon.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Marney, you bring me to my final point here,ing and that is there is always a fear that ComiCon will move somewhere else. Of how have we been able to keep it in San Diego, and what do you think the prospects are for us to be able to keep it in the years to come?

COX: I'm sure brandy has some comments on this too. Let me start with a couple. First you just need to look out your window and take a look at what San Diego has to offer. And I think if you're going to come to a place where you would like to mingle, get together with people, be comfortable, San Diego's weather is -- definitely allows you to do that. I think the location where the Convention Center is and proximity to the gas lamp and some other entertainment venues that we have, the capabilitiless of the public transportation system we've put in to accommodate that are all on a really good package that I think ComiCon recognizes that it likes to take advantage of, and people enjoy themselves while they're here. It would be a risk on their part to uproot and move to another place.

CAVANAUGH: And brandy?

SHIMABUKURO: There are -- it's just -- with the amount of -- with the exclusion that we get from Comicon this is something that you -- you can see it on the streets. You can see the activity on the street. It's amazing, the kinds of foot traffic and the people who are out in costumes participating, it's quite an event. It's something that we look forward to every year.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Brandy Shimabukuo, with the gas lamp quarter association. Marney Cox, economist with SANDAG, thank you both.

COX: Thank you Maureen.

SHIMABUKURO: Thanks for having us.

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