For Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan, losing Otakon, the Asian culture festival best known for bringing creatively costumed crowds to downtown, was a significant blow. In fiscal year 2012, the three-day convention had an economic impact of $11.3 million, more than any other event at the Baltimore Convention Center.
But Baltimore officials were also disappointed for sentimental reasons. The celebration of anime has been in Baltimore since 1999, when it drew 4,500 people. Through the years, Noonan said, it formed a bond with the city that benefited sides.
"It was sort of a quirky event coming to a quirky city," he said. "We watched it grow and we'd like to think we helped it grow."
This year, nearly 35,000 fans attended the event, which ended Sunday with an announcement that, starting in 2017 and lasting for at least five years, Otakon will be held in D.C.
Baltimore officials were surprised to see two critiques of the convention center in the news release sent by Otakon officials, and disagree with the suggestions that the convention center "has not aged well" or that construction could hinder the city's ability to host events in the future.
Noonan said he has not heard many complaints about the building's condition, nor does he believe it lacks technology present in more recently built buildings. He also said concern over future work on the facility is misguided; though a plan to replace the east wing of the convention center and connect it to a new arena was floated in 2010, significant work remains before it becomes a reality.
"There's just no way for any of us to know when that might come together," he said.
But Noonan praised Otakon's decision-makers -- all of whom are volunteers for a Pennsylvania nonprofit called Otakorp -- for giving him advanced notice about the move. He also said their decision to honor the three remaining years on their Baltimore contract mad them unique.
"That's not the normal thing in our business," he said. "Plenty of groups tell you a year out, or just try to buy their way out of a contract. I'm impressed with the way they've done business, and of course we're hopeful that, if we can expand as we hope, they'll be able to come back."
Noonan's not alone in that thought. Otakon president Andrew Earnhardt and 2013 convention chairman Terry Chu gave a lengthy interview about the decision to Anime News Network, and expressed a desire to return to Baltimore at some point.