Pensacon is going places.
And if Pensacola is smart, we will help it get there.
The sci-fi, comic book, fantasy, horror and gaming pop culture convention packed out the Pensacola Bay Center in its first year on a big local stage. Though the idea had been in chairman Mike Ensley’s mind for years, Ensley teamed with Ben Galecki, CEO of Kinematic Entertainment, at just the right time.
“Nerd culture… has sort of become the pop culture of our society,” Ensley says.
Try to find a top grossing movie or hit TV show that isn’t rooted in sci-fi, fantasy, comics or nerd love. Walking Dead anyone? Big Bang Theory much? Iron Man, Man of Steel, Hunger Games.
If you know what it means when I say, “The night is dark and full of terrors,” you’re part of the nerd revolution.
The 2014 event pumped $1,408,108 into the local economy during tourism’s slow season and packed more than 11,000 people into the Bay Center over three days.
“As soon as we announced it, it exploded and a lot of that was through social media,” Ensley says. “It was the number one way the people learned about our convention.”
Ticket sales and hotel reservations are open for the 2015 event and one big name draw already announced will be “Star Trek” legend Nichelle Nichols.
Galecki and Ensley started planning Pensacon 2015 almost before the 2014 event ended. Galecki says he has at least a “10-year plan” for the convention, and sees it living long and prospering well into the future.
The only thing limiting how big Pensacon can grow? The absence of a convention center.
CBRE, the California-based consultants hired by the city to market some of our higher-profile vacant parcels recommends a Hilton or Starwood branded hotel with approximately 225 rooms and 11,000 square feet of conference space within a five-story building on what is known as Site 8 at the Community Maritime Park.
So far, though, nary a word of even a nibble of interest from hoteliers in doing so.
In the meantime, Galecki and Ensley are eager to partner with other venues throughout downtown to host Pensacon events.
The folks at the Saenger Theatre have shown interest and others seem eager to help, which is great news. Because Pensaconers are just the kind of visitors Pensacola needs more of.
-- The average age of attendees was 39 with a household income of $60,740 who spent an average of three hotel nights here.
“So they were obviously a very attractive demographic for business,” Ensley says.
-- Organizers planned it specifically in the slow season for maximum impact on the city’s bottom line.
“It is about Pensacola,” Ensley says. “It’s not just about a comic-con, its Pensacon. This is for this city.”
Their commitment to Pensacola isn’t limited to convention time.
When the April 29 epic rainstorm decimated Manna Food Pantries, they planned a Manna benefit for May 30 that will feature live music, art benefit and Pensacon-sponsored celebrity auction to benefit the food pantry.
The event is at Dolce Vita, 309 S. Reus St. Check out the Pensacon Facebook page for details.
-- About 40 percent of attendees came from out of town; 98 percent of them said they would come back to Pensacola for Pensacon and somewhere around 73 percent said they would come back to Pensacola just to visit.
-- The crowd was large but very -- VERY -- well-behaved. Galecki says the fire marshal “spent a lot of time with us on Saturday” and even as the crowd swelled to near-beyond the Bay center’s capacity, the fire marshal never shut down access in large part because people were patient and orderly when asked to wait and minded their manners in general.
In the works for 2015 may be designating Sunday as a “family day” because strollers on the convention floor on Saturday became a hazard. Ensley and Galecki also are planning a Halloween event that could take place around Seville Square to help keep the brand alive.
They are working with VisitPensacola officials to help expand the con’s footprint in downtown as well, all to help the city they clearly love shine.
“We did manage to showcase Pensacola in a way that it hadn’t been showcased before to an audience that we may not have been reaching before and so we find that to be an exciting thing,” Ensley says.
Proof positive that nerds rule.
Watch Mike on this episode of "Progress+Promise."