As comic book superhero team “The Avengers” is smashing movie box-office records, a longtime local convention that celebrates pop culture is hoping to do a little record breaking of its own.
The Springfield Expo Center, 635 St. Louis St., will play host May 10-12 to Visioncon, an annual gathering that unites fans of film, television, comics, video games and board games. The 29th edition of the event, organized by 501(c)(3) nonprofit Visioncon Inc., returns to its Springfield roots this year after a five-year presence in Branson.
Visioncon President Brandon Shane said he hopes the popularity of “The Avengers” provides some momentum for this month’s convention.
“We are on track for probably the biggest one ever,” he said. “I’d say we’ll easily hit 4,500, but I’m hoping for 5,000. That’s my goal.”
Preregistration closed April 30, and Shane said the approximately 600 tickets sold almost doubles last year’s total at this time. Historically, preregistration sales are only about 10 percent of total attendance.
The convention features three days of programming, including special guest panels and workshops, costume-play competitions and games, dozens of vendors, a children’s area, a tabletop and video gaming area, and movie screenings.
Among this year’s offerings are appearances by actors Dana Powell, Jewel Staite and Robbie Rist. Powell, a Springfield native who graduated from Hillcrest High School and Missouri State University, has a reoccurring role on ABC’s “Modern Family.” Staite is known for TV roles in “Firefly” and “Stargate Atlantis,” while Rist was a child actor on “The Brady Bunch” and has done vocal work in movies, most notably “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Now in his fifth year as president, Shane heads up an all-volunteer staff, which totals nearly 40, according to Visioncon.net. Volunteers will man the gaming area and movie room throughout the event, he said, with both open at all hours from the start of the convention on Friday afternoon to the end on Sunday afternoon.
The sheer variety of activities is a draw for the convention, which had around 3,500 people in attendance each of the past two years in Branson, Shane said.
“That’s ultimately our goal is to make sure everybody can go and find something they want to do and see,” he said.
Another goal of the nonprofit is to donate event proceeds to various charities. Approximately $26,500 has been handed out over the past five years, Shane said. Recipients have included Castaway Animal Rescue Effort, Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Care to Learn and Great Circle. This year’s designated charity is The Kitchen Inc.
“Ideally, we have a little bit left over for the next year just in case problems arise between here and there,” Shane said of the annual charitable donations. “As long as we break even, we’re happy.”
Aside from the $40-$55 weekend passes, individual day passes are sold for $30-$40, which Shane said help pay for operating costs.
Vendor booth rental fees and ticket sales pay for the venue each year, he said, adding the Expo Center fee is $35,000 this year.
Back from Branson
The Expo Center rental fee is comparable to what the nonprofit paid last year at the Branson Convention Center, Visioncon’s host site 2016-18. The event was held at the Radisson Hotel in Branson after relocating there in 2014.
First-year attendance in Branson was around 950 people, down from 1,200 in 2013, when the event was held at the former Howard Johnson hotel on South Glenstone Avenue, Shane said. When the hotel closed down in fall 2013, Shane said no adequate deals could be struck in Springfield, leading the convention to head out of town for the first time in its history.
After outgrowing the Radisson Hotel and moving to the Branson Convention Center, Visioncon was still dealing with space issues. With other events filling the center’s schedule, Shane said the convention wasn’t able to utilize as much of the facility as organizers desired.
“Mostly, we’ve got to have space. So, here we’ve got space to grow,” he said, adding the convention will be occupying all of the exhibit halls, concourse and lobby areas.
The Expo Center has 112,000 square feet of floor space available, according to its website.
Shane expects between 75 and 90 vendors for Visioncon 2019.
C.C. Guice has been operating a booth at Visioncon since 2008, and she plans to return this year. Guice will have a booth devoted to the handcrafted repurposed clothing products she sells at A Wench in the Gear, the store she opened late last year on Commercial Street.
At last year’s convention, she broke $5,000 in sales of her costume-play attire, corsets and hats.
“It’s a really great weekend you don’t want to miss if you’re a vendor,” she said, adding her “geek stuff” like Wonder Woman corsets are big niche purchases for customers. “It’s a massive blue light special.”
Before starting her shop, Guice said she’d work 12-15 shows a year in the Midwest. Now because of her busy work schedule, she’s only planning to attend Visioncon and the Kansas City Renaissance Festival this year.
Conventioneers generally come from the Springfield area, Shane said, but there also is pull from Kansas City, St. Louis, Joplin and surrounding states. He said about 90% of the Visioncon Facebook page’s 6,500-plus followers are from the Springfield metropolitan area. However, a block of rooms for event attendees at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center – across the street from the Expo Center – are sold out, he added.
Visioncon is landing right in the busy time for conventions and conferences in Springfield, said Tracy Kimberlin, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said March through October generally draw more conventions to town, adding he was glad that Visioncon has returned to Springfield.
While CVB staff hasn’t worked directly with the convention’s personnel, Kimberlin said they would gladly offer assistance if desired.
“We have reached out to them, but they are self-sufficient,” he said.
Pappy’s Place came under new ownership; Napleton Autowerks/Missouri Inc. moved; and St. Louis barbecue chain Sugarfire Smokehouse made its Springfield debut.
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