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Convention Center Seeing Cancellations Amid Coronavirus Fears; Comic-Con Still On

Fans leave the convention center on Day One of Comic-Con International held at the San Diego Convention Center, July 21, 2016.
Associated Press
Fans leave the convention center on Day One of Comic-Con International held at the San Diego Convention Center, July 21, 2016.

Four conferences at the San Diego Convention Center were canceled in the last few days and another was postponed because of coronavirus concerns.

Parking Expo, scheduled for March 22-25, Experimental Biology, scheduled in April, American Medical Group Association, scheduled March 25-28, and American Association for Cancer Research, scheduled for April 24-29, have all called off their events, a convention center spokeswoman said.

Convention Center Seeing Cancellations Amid Coronavirus Fears; Comic-Con Still On
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

The American Association for Cancer Research canceled Tuesday afternoon. It is one of the largest events held at the convention center with an estimated 23,000 expected people to attend. A convention center spokeswoman said an estimated $73 million in regional impact will be lost, along with $1.4 million in city taxes and approximately 50,000 hotel room nights.

The Parking Expo was expected to have 1,200 people attend, while Experimental Biology was going to have around 15,000 and the American Medical Group Association expected 2,200 visitors. The American Medical Group Association decided to move to a "virtual" conference, while the others canceled outright.

"Company after company are restricting travel thus preventing both exhibitors and attendees from traveling to San Diego," Parking Today media editor and publisher John Van Horn wrote in an online letter. "What this means is that instead of a strong vibrant event, we would have less than half of the event we planned."

Another conference at the convention center, Kindred, decided to move its event from May to September — 2,000 people are expected to attend.

All the events were either canceled or postponed between Friday and Tuesday.

The cancellations have a trickle-down effect. Between the Parking Expo, Experimental Biology and American Medical Association events, an estimated 41,400 guests are not coming to San Diego to stay in hotel rooms and eat at restaurants.

Still, the cancellations represent a small number of events held at the convention center. The largest annual event held there is Comic-Con, which brings in approximately 135,000 people. The San Diego Convention Center estimated Comic-Con has a $149 million regional impact with more than 64,000 hotel room nights.

Seattle's annual comic book convention, Emerald City Comic-Con, recently rescheduled. But San Diego Comic-Con officials say the July event is moving on as planned.

"Comic-Con is working with local officials as it pertains to the COVID-19 situation and continues to monitor developments closely," the organization said in a statement. "At this time both shows, WonderCon Anaheim and Comic-Con in San Diego, are moving forward as scheduled. As always, the safety and security of all our attendees is of utmost importance. Please rest assured that these concerns are being taken very seriously and we will not make any decisions regarding the rescheduling of shows without weighing all considerations carefully."

Convention center officials said they have not gotten guidance from county health officials about canceling or postponing conferences. That may come once the virus starts spreading in San Diego.

"We are paying close attention to COVID-19 developments and best practices," San Diego Convention Center CEO Rip Rippetoe said. "The county of San Diego Department of Health and Human Services has not suggested canceling events or limiting travel to San Diego at this time."

Rippetoe went on to say, in an emailed statement, the convention center is trying to be flexible.

"We are collaborating with our clients to adapt their events to the situation, including working with them to include live-streaming technologies for participants who may not be able to attend due to travel restrictions and changing aspects of their food service to limit contact among individuals," Rippetoe said. "We plan to continue to host events and welcome audiences whenever possible, in line with guidance of health officials and the interests of event participants."