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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, fresh on the heels of landing LA as the site of the big Microsoft World Partners Conference, has set his sights on bringing  Comic-Con — the world’s largest convention for comic book enthusiasts — to the City of the Angels and to the downtown LA Convention Center. 

Bringing this massive gathering to Los Angeles would be a big feather in the cap of the beleaguered Mayor and welcome news as he and his City Council cope with a massive shortfall in the city’s budget that is dominating the news. 

Unfortunately for Antonio, he has two well known Angelinos working at cross-purposes with him on this one – AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke and Wasserman Media Group founder Casey Wasserman.  These two gentlemen have big plans to rip out a big chunk of the convention center, and replace it with a football stadium, and bring professional football back to the LA basin – or so they say.

Leiweke’s AEG (owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz) built and own the Staples Center and they just finished dropping a cool $2.5 billion (with a “b”) on the neighboring LA Live sports and entertainment district (it is worth noting, by the way, that the taxpayers are on the hook with public subsidies on these).  AEG now  wants to team up with Wasserman Media (run by Casey Wasserman, the thirty-something grandson of the late Lew Wasserman of MCA entertainment fame) to build an 80,000-seat stadium, complete with a retractable roof.  They want to locate this new sporting venue right on the site of the existing West Hall of the Convention Center.  The West Hall has almost 40% of the total exhibition space and its demolition would make it nearly impossible for the convention center to host…conventions… for at least a couple of years starting in 2011 or 2012…

Therein lies the rub, as it would take a long time (years) for this stadium proposal to get all of its needed approvals for construction, as well deal with the fact that because of the existing labor issues within the NFL, it may take them a long time to be able to get an NFL team to Los Angeles – an essential component in order for the project to pencil out. 

The Leiweke/Wasserman stadium proposal, by the way, should not be confused with the competing project of billionaire Ed Roski to build a football stadium about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, near the intersection of the 10, 210 and 57 freeways.  I recall that Roski got a sweetheart deal from Sacramento – lots of CEQA exemptions.  We can figure AEG/Wasserman will be expecting the same…

While this commentary is really less about Comic-Con itself than it is exploring the very real impacts when some of LA’s “big wheels” start throwing their weight around, I really do feel compelled to paint a picture of this mega-event for you, as I have attended a few of these conventions in San Diego over the years.  Comic-Con is a gathering of literally over 125,000 comic book enthusiasts from around the planet.  While it is true that a great many attendees dress up in costume (see photo), I can share that I have never been quite that enthusiastic.  That said, this is a vast event that brings in upwards of $60 million annually into the San Diego community (all of those people need to eat somewhere and sleep somewhere).  The challenge is that the convention has literally “outgrown” San Diego – which is why organizers are looking for a new home for this event starting in 2013 when their contractual obligation to the San Diego Convention Center expire.

Unfortunately for Mayor Villaraigosa, not only not only does he have Leiweke and Wasserman working hard to make the downtown Los Angeles venue an unattractive one to Comic-Con (and every other convention) with their high profile stadium idea, but at the same time Anaheim and Orange County have been aggressively courting the organizers of this massive event.  With 850,000 square feet of convention exhibition space, and a vast array of hotels with tens of thousands of rooms, the “OC” may be an attractive spot that has the advantage of being as close as you can get to Comic-Con’s original home town, but with the needed capacity.  I’m sure if Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and his team land this big event, it will be because of their cool Facebook fan page set up just for this purpose!  I spoke with the President of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Todd Ament, who assured me that the “full court press” was on to try and bring this massive event to his city.  One big advantage – unlike in LA, no one is talking about the potential of tearing down half of the Anaheim Convention Center to accommodate a sporting arena. 

And despite space concerns on the part of Comic-Con organizers, they are still asking

Will professional football come back to Los Angeles in the coming years?  That remains to be seen.  But if I am the decision makers for Comic-Con, and can take the five minutes it takes to do a Google search on AEG and Wasserman, and see that these guys are very real players, then I have to think seriously how this might impact a proposal from LA to host Comic-Con.  With a decision expected in just the news few days on a new home for this convention, Mayor Villaraigosa’s got to be just a little nervous.  For good reason. for the greater San Diego Community to give them their best proposal.