VENUE: Pensacola Civic Center Inc. and the Crowne Plaza Grand Hotel
CONVENTION DATES: February 21-23, 2014
GUEST LIST: over 90+ names (including Billy-Dee Williams, Walter Koenig, Burn Gorman, Deep Roy, Daniel Logan, Ernie Hudson, Kane Hodder, Tony Moran, Kristian Nairn, Finn Jones, Veronica Taylor, Monica Rial, Richard Hatch, Monika Lee, Riki LeCotey Timothy Zahn, Walter Jones, David Yost, Peter Mayhew, Priscilla Barnes, Dirk Benedict, Anne Lockhart, Herbert Jefferson Jr, Christopher Judge, Cerina Vincent, Mackenzie Lintz, Samm Levine, Brutus the Barber Beefcake, Greg Valentine, the Honkey Tonk Man, Parker Stevenson, Vernon Wells, Nicholas Brendon, Lew Temple, Theodus Crane)
my convention background
When I first heard about Pensacon, I was very intrigued. As the name suggested, Pensacon was based in Pensacola. I had yet to journey up to the Florida Panhandle for any convention which made this event quite obligatory. How could I truly consider myself a complete, Florida convention-goer without attending a potentially-major convention in Florida's panhandle region? This was as much a calling to my inner-nerd as it was to my adventurous side. Not only that, but this also was a first-time outing for Pensacon as a convention (which added a high level of mystique to its nature).
my objectives for pensacon
With a full tank of gas and my cameraman keeping me awake during the trek, I made the 7 hour trip from Orlando to Pensacola. I planned to attend all 3 days of this event. The next order of business: nerding out at Pensacon!
The second level of the Civic Center contained the tables for many of the artists, and also, the highly-desired celebrity rooms (where you could meet the celebrities at their designated tables). The panel rooms were scattered throughout the building and across the street at the Crowne Plaza Grand Hotel (which also contained another vendor room and a few table-top gaming areas).
There was a little bonus feature inside this convention center: the 10,000+ seats surrounding the arena which offered visitors a convenient place to rest their feet.
Celebrity accessibility at pensacon
In most conventions in Florida (even the major ones), the celebrities only come out to meet their fans in quick, scheduled intervals. There are several drawbacks with scheduled meet & greets such as long lines, and less of a chance to actually talk in earnest to a celebrity. One of the worst things that can happen at a convention is driving to another city, and then missing the chance to meet a celebrity because you failed to line up two hours early for their scheduled meet & greet.
Pensacon gets it absolutely right in this regard: the vast majority of celebrities were available at their tables for most of the day, and hordes of visitors had the opportunity to engage in actual conversations with such folks as Richard Hatch, the Heroes of Cosplay girls, the Game of Thrones' actors, etc. The bottom line was: most of the celebrities were very accessible, and visitors such as myself knew where to find them. I managed to interact with every single celebrity that I set out to meet (which is actually a huge accomplishment as any convention veteran would know).
I have two explanations for this:
1) extremely aggressive & effective marketing campaign by Pensacon and/or
2) a nerd-rich region that has been starving for a convention like this year for years.
By their own estimates, Pensacon generated 5,183 room nights at the local hotels. That figure alone only factors in visitors from out-of-town (such as myself) who do not know anyone locally. The amount of locals or daytrippers in the area would easily increase the numbers in attendance.
Whatever the case, Pensacon tapped their resources really well, and the local economy must have experienced a huge boom in their monetary gains for that weekend. I personally spent two nights at a La Quinta. I had lunch 3 days in a row at McGuire's Irish Pub, dinner at the Founaris Bros., and then my final local dinner at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant. I filled up on my gas tank in Pensacola before departing, and I shopped at the local Publix. I definitely did my small part to inject some capital into the local economy.