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No fantasy: Comic-Con means full hotels

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Nearly every hotel room in San Diego County will be full this weekend as pop culture enthusiasts from all over come to the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con.

Of the 54,000 hotel rooms in San Diego, 98 percent will be booked, according to Steven Johnson, vice president for public affairs of the convention center.

“This is the single highest occupancy of the year in hotels,” Johnson said.

This year, the convention center is conducting a more in-depth survey to learn more about which attendees stay where, how many people tend to share a room, where else in San Diego they go and other information.

For now, Johnson said, all they know is that plenty of people come to the area from out of town.

“There is an event impact on every single hotel,” Johnson said, pointing out that it's not just hotels downtown that benefit.

Hotels in Mission Valley, and even outside the city of San Diego all see a bump in business during Comic-Con week.

What’s more, Comic-Con attendees are willing to spend big bucks on their accommodations. Johnson said there used to be a widely held notion by local businesses that the costumed hordes that attend Comic-Con didn’t drop much cash outside of the convention, but some of them stay in the area’s priciest rooms.

That’s especially true since major movie and television stars, producers, writers and executives began attending the convention in recent years.

“There’s a lot of money thrown around at Comic-Con,” Johnson said. “A lot of money.”

That money is not only thrown at the hotel industry. Local shops and restaurants see business from Comic-Con visitors as well, perhaps no more so than in the Gaslamp Quarter, located right across Harbor Drive from the Convention Center.

Jimmy Parker, executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, which promotes the downtown district, said he doesn’t have hard numbers on the affect Comic-Con has on the area, but he’s seen the impact with his own eyes.

“Starting Wednesday we see a larger lunch crowd,” Parker said.

Johnson said he’s heard stories from employees at the Ralph’s supermarket downtown that a few days into Comic-Con, the store’s potato chip aisle “looks like a war zone,” a sure sign that the teens and college students who are Comic-Con’s biggest fans have been through.

But Parker said attendees frequent all the different restaurants in the Gaslamp, including the most expensive. Some return to the same every year.

He said the manager of Dick’s Last Resort said he knows entire families who come every year -- some dressed as Storm Troopers from "Star Wars," others as Klingons from "Star Trek" -- and he’s gotten to know them and seen their kids grow up.

The Gaslamp and some hotels also have benefited from ancillary events. Movie studios in particular like to launch new projects at Comic-Con to generate buzz, and sometimes they’ll hold a party or event nearby that’s not necessarily tied to Comic-Con.

Last year, for example, Warner Bros. rented out Petco Park for a showing of the company’s action movie "300," in honor of the film’s release on DVD.

It’s those ancillary events, however, that bring up one of Comic-Con’s few problems in downtown San Diego -- it’s starting to outgrow it.

The convention has a signed deal to stay at the San Diego Convention Center through 2012, and Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer told The Daily Transcript in April that organizers would very much like to stay in San Diego, but are worried they’ve outgrown the space.

"There's been some talk of expansion of the center, which we would certainly welcome," Glanzer said last spring.

This year’s Comic-Con is almost completely sold out.

Those who do have tickets aren’t all out-of-towners, though. Parker said he’s noticed Comic-Con is one of the biggest “stay-cations” in the region, with a lot of locals from San Diego or other nearby counties coming down for the day.

Parker said he’s noticed a lot of parents -- including himself -- like it because they can drop off their kids at the convention for a few hours while they walk around and do other things. Then they can all meet up for lunch in the Gaslamp.

“It’s got such a safe, wonderful vibe,” he said.

Send your comments to Elizabeth.Malloy@sddt.com

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