The day was typical for what’s become one of the central Gulf Coast’s most successful gatherings built around creative pursuits. In short, Pensacon was kicking.
For one Mobilian on hand, it was an eye opener. My wife and I shared some seats and conversation with Uncle Henry for the better part of an hour talking about the spectacle, the fans moving around us at artists’ tables and wandering the vendors’ floor beneath us.
Uncle Henry couldn’t stop with the praise and amazement. When you impress an irascible curmudgeon, it’s notable.
“What impressed me the most was when I found out they had a late cancellation with a guest and landed Sean Astin on a moment’s notice. That’s when I knew they had some serious money behind this,” Uncle Henry said.
Uncle Henry mentioned the visible economic activity, the people on the streets and in hotels and restaurants. He pointed to the new tax revenue for the city as some vendors told him it was one of the highlights of their year.
We discussed space I’ve spent in this paper lauding a similar idea for Mobile. The Azalea City has even more to its advantage than Pensacola as far as facilities, hotels, etc.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson is always hitting the “family-friendly” note in his statements, and this arena was filled with such.
“I’ve never felt safer at a public event of this size,” Uncle Henry said, enthralled by the amiable vibe. He saw for himself why the experience often exceeds the imagination.
We did agree on another imagined scenario, though. Were someone to load Mobile city officials and tourism personnel onto a bus, drive them over and let them see Pensacon for themselves, they would quickly start wondering, “How can we get something like this for our town?”
The numbers speak for themselves. Kat Bishop, Pensacon’s director of marketing and communications, said attendance this year was 28,500.
The hard numbers for this year’s economics aren’t in yet, but she noted the previous three years together amounted to about $8 million. This should easily pass $10 million after 2017 is included.
When 2018 VIP passes went on sale March 15, they sold out in three minutes. Their host hotel, the Pensacola Grand, booked up in 38 minutes.
While Biloxi’s Coast Con has been around 40 years and our own Mobicon has existed in some form since the 1980s, neither has approached the impact of Pensacon, which has made a big splash quickly.
The organizers of Quest Con, slated for Mobile’s Convention Center this coming Oct. 20-22, hope to change that. They’ve been in planning for nearly three years.
Quest Con director Chad Leitenberger is upbeat about their chances. He said it sprung from the background he and other organizers have in online gaming and convention attendance.
“We want experiences for people to do that will take all three days,” Leitenberger said. He said their areas of emphasis will be gaming and cosplay.
Quest Con has The Gulf Coast Exploreum on board with kids’ events, and they are in talks with the History Museum of Mobile. There will be an open-air market called “The Wrecking Yard” in Cooper Riverside Park which he has tagged “a Mad Max, barter town-type thing free to the public.”
But what about that all-important ingredient that turned Uncle Henry’s head: capital? The cash to cast a wide pop culture net and bring celebrity guests that lure casual fans is part of what brought Pensacon such remarkably quick success.
Leitenberger said their producers — three in Biloxi, one in Virginia — can pony up.
“Obviously there is some word of mouth and social media but we’re not going to hit our big advertising until about three to four months out,” Leitenberger said.
Do they have bigger names, notable names under contract they haven’t announced yet?
“Yeah, a lot,” Leitenberger said.
For right now, the soon-to-be-retired firefighter is hopeful. The new event is growing faster than anticipated.
“We started out wanting half the [convention center] exhibit hall, four panel rooms and a ballroom and within six months we had the whole thing. The public support is amazing. We’ve got people from San Diego, Grand Rapids, Chicago buying tickets,” Leitenberger said.
Correction: Last week, Artifice mistakenly named the University of South Alabama as one of the contributing entities for the Mobile Museum of Art’s new William Christenberry exhibit. They are not. Also the Christenberry who fashioned the referenced Tornado Table and lantern is William Andrew Christenberry III, the featured artist’s son. He is a professional artist and furniture maker.