Historicon's New Home IV: This time, it's permanent (we hope)12 Mar 2018 3
On 8th February 2018, at 1349 hours, the Board of Directors for the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS) dropped a bomb of sorts, albeit a very pleasant one. As of 2019 Historicon, called the 'Mother of All Wargaming Conventions' by the Wall Street Journal has a new, and one would suspect, permanent home. That new residence is the Marriott Penn Square and the adjoining Lancaster County Convention Center at 25 South Queen Street, Lancaster, PA 17603.
This article is my take on the new digs, overall a good move. I live less than 45 minutes from the venue and have been there often for a variety of events, the most recent when my number one (and only) daughter graduated from nursing school and then again when she graduated with a baccalaureate in the same profession. So yes, I know the turf. That said remember these ruminations are based on reality as of February 8th. The Board has not officially announced this location as permanent and who knows what other services may have been contracted but not yet announced. Historicon 2019 is over a year away, so be patient and let’s take a look at the big picture.
HMGS got to this place after a journey Stan Lee couldn’t make up. Following an abortive and ill-conceived attempt to move to Baltimore, the con moved to Valley Forge, PA, then to Fredericksburg, VA and then back to the Lancaster Host Resort for a temporary 2018 stay. Evidently even Babylon 5 was under serious consideration. The Host had long been the traditional home of Historicon, but as of late had fallen into serious disrepair with some buildings condemned due to a burst water main and the restaurant shut down by the Health Department. The new owners are moving heaven and earth to restore the old girl to her previous grandeur, but that takes time and wargamers are notorious for looking forward short term only, yet having past memories rivaling even the greatest pachyderm. Moving the convention away from its demographic center of mass caused a severe drop in attendance, and moving back to a location many believe a dump is likely not going to improve matters. Moving the convention somewhere else was a solid idea IMHO.
And the somewhere else is only four miles or less from the Host, still in the demographic center of HMGS land, and an easy drive from each of four major population centers – DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. It’s the I-95 corridor and the most densely populated piece of real estate in the entire country. Attendance should go up.
Based on my personal experience, the quality of the facility is exceptional and very upscale when compared to the Host. The complex opened in 2009 after $177.6 million in new construction and renovation, using the old façade of the Watt & Shand Department Store building. Inside, the design is modern contemporary, always in prefect repair and always immaculate. Technology is always current, with the latest innovations available for meetings and events. Likewise, the staff is plentiful, very well trained, knowledgeable and super professional. Even the largest disaster is handled efficiently and quickly, and always with a calm but noticeably pleasant smile. In fact, these folks are so damn courteous and perky no matter what you throw at them, whatever they’re smoking I want some. Thus it should come as no surprise that while the Host weighs in with a 2.2 out of 5 rating on sites like Trip Advisor, this locale comes in at 4.6 out of 5 for cleanliness and 4.4 out of 5 for service. Or says 583 reviews of which 92% say they would recommend the venue to a friend.
For events, this place is just plain YUGE! I’ve been in Freedom Hall for graduations and when compared to even the Host’s Expo Center, the size of this specific event room is mind boggling. So for this article I decided to pull the room specs from the Host (and note, I had to use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to do it; the Host site seems to be reservation only) and match them against the Lancaster Convention Center and Marriott. Noting that several of these event areas can be combined into larger halls or rooms, the Host boasts 80,000 square feet of event space from the tiny Strasburg Room with 480 square feet and a max capacity of 60, to the Expo Center (Tennis Barn) with 23,540 square feet and a capacity of 2500. Popular gaming areas like the Distlefink has 9288 (both ball rooms together) square feet and a capacity of 1000, while the Lampeter has 17,500 square feet and a capacity of 1500.
Turning to the new venue, the Website states 90,000 square feet of combined meeting and event space, of which 78,628 square feet are pure event space. There are 24 meeting room or a maximum of 26 breakout rooms with the max capacity of any one room 5000 people. That room is Freedom Hall and when both sections are combined boasts 46,508 square feet. When broken down into its two sections, one lists 15,553 square feet (1500 people), the other 27,784 square feet (2500 people). If used as a tradeshow room, 250 vendors can fit with 10 x 10 foot booths. Similarly the combined Heritage Ballroom has 9696 square feet (1000 people or 50 vendors) while the combined Commonwealth Room has 8724 square feet (800 people or 45 vendors). All rooms have prefunction areas; there are plenty of power outlets and wireless Internet is on site. Access is easy via stairs ramps and elevators that always work. And all of this is carpeted, under one, well lighted and well maintained roof.
Bottom line is that there is plenty of room for current attendance and growing should not be a problem. A PDF with the complete floorplan and specs is available on the Marriott Website.
Well, first of all, it is going to be more expensive. For Historicon accommodations at the Marriott (299 rooms) are listed as $145 US a night for up to four occupants. By comparison, for the same timeframe the Host (319 rooms) indicated $ 99 a night for a King, and $ 109 for a Double, while the Wyndham Hawthorne Suites (3.2 miles away) runs $110 a night. To that must be added parking if you are not staying at the convention hotel. The Marriott Website indicates pricing as $15 daily for offsite locations or $19 daily for onsite parking, although hotel guests can park free.
Food is also going to be pricy, but that could be mitigated by any small snack stands that might be contracted for in various gaming locations. Otherwise the hotel serves breakfast only but the prices for a full American or buffet breakfast is $18.95, for Continental buffet $13.95. The onsite restaurant is the Penn Square Grill and Rendezvous Lounge, very upscale with a 12-ounce New York Strip steak dinner special running $29. Fortunately, there are 32 eateries within a three block radius as alternatives. As befitting a revitalized downtown area, most of these establishments are local, upscale specialty shops, so food may be a little higher than expected, but not outrageous. Having eaten there on occasion, however, I will admit the cuisine is normally excellent. There is also a Jimmy John’s and Subway within the mix, but no Starbucks (savages).
The other issue is trafficability, both parking and loading/unloading. For the former, the Lancaster Convention Center site indicates the only loading site is a single entrance on Vine Street, and customers are advised to bring their own loading cart. The Convention Center Loading Procedure pdf (it also has parking maps) gives all the details but everything seems geared towards vendors only. Whether the HMGS Board has made arrangements for use by gamemasters as well is unknown at this time.
Access and parking could also be an issue. The Convention Center is located downtown so expect narrow roads, slow traffic and traffic lights. Also, the main road bordering the complex (E King Street), as well as a few side roads, is one way, always a frustration. As for parking, the HMGS announcement indicates 2330 spaces in parking garages within just a couple of blocks. This is accurate, but drawing on personal experience it might not be so simple. Because this is downtown in the historic district of Lancaster, convention attendees will be competing for those same spaces with everyday shoppers, tourists and employees of businesses within the area. I’ve always had to fight for parking when I’ve been at this site, and I doubt Historicon will be any different. My advice is to get there early – REAL early – in the morning, and once parked, do NOT move your car until you are ready to quit for the evening or check out on Sunday.
That would probably be us - miniature wargamers. One of the things confounding venues in the past with pewter pushers is that the hobby is 90 % male, so catering to specific, related needs times 2000 plus has often been problematic. When combined with what can be charitably described as a much more... casual and informal... convention personality than what the upscale Marriott and Convention Center is used to, the first couple of conventions there should be fun to watch. Culture clash at its finest.
Nevertheless, I think the move is a good one all things considered. It is not a perfect location, but that doesn’t exist anywhere. Some people will be inconvenienced, some will not, but here I think it’s just a matter of adapting. I plan to do exactly that. I’ll come the first day of the convention rather than the night before given I live so close. I’ll also stay at the Hawthorne Suites (with free breakfast) because not only is the published rate cheaper, but I can cut it in half as a Club Wyndham Rewards member by using points. Thus even with parking, the cost won’t be so bad. And because I’m a morning person, I can get to the parking garage really, really early.
Until then, if you are coming to any HMGS cons still be held at the Host, take time for a four mile trip into Lancaster to not only check out the new digs, but where to eat and how to get there. With just a pinch of planning, we can make this work and I look forward to it.
Bill is an HMGS member, member of the HMGS Legion of Honor and former Board member and webmaster.