There’s plenty of fantasy and science fiction at Kumoricon — downtown Vancouver’s anime and manga-enthusiast convention — but not enough real estate: Kumoricon is moving to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland next year.
“If only we could magically conjure up more space,” said Phillip Koop, the event’s organizing board chairman.
It had been growing increasingly clear for some time that Kumoricon, which has brought thousands of costumed characters downtown for the past five years, would need to move, Koop said.
The event has been growing in popularity with each year, and it was getting harder to cram the thousands of fans into the Hilton Vancouver Washington and Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.
“Last year you could sort of tell we’d really gotten too large for the venue.” Koop said. “Limbo-ing under fire code.”
When the convention’s organizing board learned last year that the Red Lion’s Centennial Center would be torn down, Koop said it signaled the organizers it was time to start looking for space elsewhere.
“We love Vancouver,” he said — particularly Esther Short Park.
“It’s a great location, the downtown’s just amazing, super welcoming,” he said, pointing also to the farmers market and the Subway restaurant, which would stay open longer to accommodate conventiongoers.
The event board had been speaking, in generalities, about moving to the Oregon Convention Center for years. By the time the news came that the Red Lion would be demolished as part of redevelopment plans, Kumoricon’s organizers had signed a deal with the Portland venue.
“About two years ago, we started seriously looking into it because we could feel we were nearing capacity here,” Koop said.
A volunteer at the artist’s tent was counting guests Friday, and a line formed outside the entrance because he could only allow so many in at a time. Attendees were squeezed to capacity in the Hilton’s elevators.
“The enthusiasm, definitely, when we made the announcement, was pretty large” among convention guests, Koop said. “All our attendees know: They’re in the space, they can tell” how crowded it’s become.
The convention has grown about 20 percent annually and drew about 7,000 people last year, said Christine Whitney, the business development manager at Visit Vancouver USA, the city’s marketing and business development office for tourism.
“They have really outgrown the Vancouver area. The Hilton Vancouver is the host hotel now, and we’re utilizing six other hotels in the Vancouver area, and right now the Hilton is just at capacity for hosting the convention,” she said.
Teresa Brum, the city of Vancouver’s economic development manager, said the city will be sad to see the event go.
“The conference participants have brought vitality and business support to our downtown for the past five years,” she said. “We hope that they will consider returning to Vancouver sometime in the future.”
Portland’s Crystal Thelin, who came to the convention Friday as a Gatling gun-toting, armored space marine from the “Halo” video game franchise, thought the move would be a positive change for the convention, and help with guests’ transportation needs.
“It’s right on the bus lines and MAX. Going across the river, it takes almost two hours just to go from Lloyd Center to here because of rush hour traffic if you pick the wrong time of day,” she said.
She wasn’t sad about losing Esther Short Park, either; there will plenty of space where people can hang out at the center itself, and there are lots of park spaces near the convention center.
“Within walking distance, there’s lots of fun things to do,” she said. “Originally, it was at the DoubleTree that was at the Lloyd Center, so it’s kind of going back to its roots a little bit more, just now we’ve got more space: super excited.”
The convention’s popularity has grown significantly in the past few years, said Darien “Cappie” Green, who has been going to Kumoricon for six years.
Moving makes sense, but he said it’s unfortunate the convention will leave Vancouver.
Green wore a bulbous blue outfit modeled after the slime monster from the “Dragon Quest” video game series.
“This place is awesome. We have the Hilton, we have this awesome park, so it’s kinda sad that we’re going,” he said. “But I can see having a larger venue is going to be, definitely, more helpful for the staff. We’ll be able to have more panels during it, we’ll be able to do a lot more like that.”
When it moves to Portland, Kumoricon will run from Oct. 28-30.
Green wondered how the date change would effect younger guests, who would have to schedule trips to the convention around school. But on the other hand, he said, changing the timing means he and his friends wouldn’t have to choose between Kumoricon and PAX Prime in Seattle, another convention that usually happens over Labor Day weekend.
Koop said it will be a challenge to fill the new space, but the change in timing presents an opportunity.
Labor Day weekend is popular for pop culture-style conventions, he said, so Kumoricon has to compete with dozens of other events — including huge conventions such as Dragon Con in Atlanta, Fan Expo Canada and PAX Prime — for visitors, vendors and industry interest.
“The weekend’s just getting worse and worse if you want have any sort of industry connection,” he said.
October is more open, and he’s been hearing positive feedback from industry representatives.
Also, he added, Rose City Comic Con usually happens mid-September at the Oregon Convention Center. Since the convention center’s agreements prohibit similar events from being scheduled too close to each other, next year’s Kumoricon had to be rescheduled.
“It was like, ‘Well, if we go to the convention center we just can’t keep our dates. If we don’t go to the convention center, where are we going?’ ” Koop said.
It won’t be the first change of venue for the convention. Since starting in 2003, Kumoricon has been held in Springfield, Ore., and Portland before coming to Vancouver.
Koop was confident the event’s momentum will continue across the river.
“One of the things that I really think makes Kumoricon endure is just our attendee base,” he said. “That’s what kept us going this far. It’s kept us alive jumping across the river, then jumping back again, and then jumping back across the river again.”
“It’s our attendees that keep us going, they’re who we put on the con for.”
If You Go
What: Kumoricon: The Anime Convention on the Columbia River.
When: Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St., and Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, 100 Columbia St., Vancouver.
Cost: Single-day passes only — adults, $30 for Monday and $40 for today or Sunday; ages 6 through 12 get $10 discount; free admission for ages 5 and younger. Pay at the door.
Age matters: Those younger than 18 must have a parental permission form, which can be found on the website. Those ages 12 and younger will not be admitted without a parent or guardian.
For all attendees: Photo ID is mandatory to get an admission badge. Badges are not being mailed this year. Attendees who preregistered also must have photo ID to get in.
For more info: www.kumoricon.org