So you've considered your assets and started building your organization. Now it's time to move on to Part 3: Finding your location. Now, this actually goes hand in hand with Part 4 (Choosing your date), and I debated long and hard as to which I would tackle first in this series. In truth, Location and Date are two things you need to figure out at the same time, but the amount of information to cover would be so imense, the article would be far too long. So, here we go.
Choosing a location comes down to a number of factors, but for the most part it's going to boil down to suitability versus cost.
Hotels are really the best venue for conventions, and no matter what town you're in, there should be a hotel incredibly well suited for your first year convention in the area. They are going to offer the best space, be the most easily accessible to out of towners, and prevent people from having to drive home at the end of the night. There is one major downside though for first year conventions: The Cost.
Hotels are downright expensive, and the larger the metro area you're in, the bigger the bill is going to be. For smaller cons, paying the hotel bill will be by far their largest expenditure. No Brand Con has been lucky in that Eau Claire isn't that large of a town, therefore keeping our costs down. But even in our podunk Wisconsin town hotel costs can easily be in the five figure range.
As you are starting a first year convention, you likely don't have five figures in your budget, let alone to plunk down on convention space. Starting your convention in a hotel is a massive risk, and as I said in a previous installment, there's a good chance no one is getting their money back. Do not go into debt over a convention, period.
So unless you get a massive donation from someone's rich uncle, we need to think about alternatives.
By far the most common alternative chosen, especially by student groups running conventions, is their educational facility itself. Out of the four dominant conventions in the Wisconsin Anime Convention scene (No Brand Con included), three of them held their first two to three conventions on a University of Wisconsin campus. No Brand Con held its first three conventions at W.R. Davies Center on the UWEC campus, Geek.kon (while not an Anime Convention gets grouped in with us often enough) held their first two conventions in the UW Madison Humanities building, and Anime Milwaukee just finished holding their third full convention at the UW Milwaukee student union.
If the organization you've built is based around a University, this is likely your best route to go. Student Unions usually have all of the types of meeting rooms you'll need for your convention -- from large halls to smaller meeting rooms -- often for a low to no price for student groups. You're trading off the convenience of hotel rooms on site (unless you go to one of the few Universities that has an on campus hotel... and yes, those do exist), but what you're getting in exchange is an excellent location for very little financial risk. As you'll be charging admission for your convention (and yes, you should do that -- and I'll cover why in a later installment) it may not be a free option, but it will likely won't be anywhere near as high as a hotel. I highly recommend you consider this route if you're a university based group.
If you aren't a University based group, your alternatives to a hotel are far more limited. Some local schools will rent themselves out, and while you may not dream of holding main events in a grade school gymnasium, it shouldn't be entirely dismissed. I've been to several fun conventions that were held in High Schools as well, and while they probably aren't your first choice, they may be better than having no convention at all. There are other alternatives as well, from church basements to meeting rooms in malls, but each venue must be individually examined.
I will say that if you are a non-student organization, you may not find a venue that can compete with a hotel no matter how hard you try.
Your location is going to be a defining quality to your convention no matter what. Part of what people will always remember about your convention will always be attached to that, and you do have to keep that in mind when planning a convention. Location effects perception, no matter how much you want your organization's efforts to be the star. If you look at long running, successful conventions, Student Unions and Hotels are the prime locations chosen. Events run in Church Basements and Junior High Schools rarely grow beyond a few hundred people.
Of course, while you're choosing where to hold your convention, you need to simultaneously consider the when -- and we'll cover that in part four.
As much as I enjoy reading these, I'll have to disagree with the fact that every town has hotels that will be a good place for a convention. Cause Duluth has 0, that's right zero. We have three possible hotels in town, and two of which want nothing to do with having a convention. And the third's con space is very spread out and it has a water park in it. The hotels up here are all about weddings, and really don't want to have to deal with weird people running around their hotel in costumes...
In my experience, any hotel can be talked into it if the price tag is large enough. They worry about "weirdos" if you don't control the whole hotel, as we weird out the rest of the guests. The instant you can book the entire facility, trust me when I say their attitude changes quite quickly.