The Florida Supercon comic convention ended its four-day run without major snafus Sunday as controversy began over just who was responsible for Saturday’s hours-long traffic jam that angered fans and left businesses without customers.
More uniformed police on the streets and fewer fans — many in full costume — in attendance helped prevent a similar issue Sunday on Southeast 17th Street and streets near the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center.
Fort Lauderdale Police Capt. Frank Sousa blamed “a breakdown in communications” for an insufficient number of officers on the street to direct Saturday’s traffic. Broward Sheriff’s deputies handle security inside the convention center, not traffic.
“We were not given accurate numbers” from convention organizers about how many people would attend Saturday’s sold-out Supercon, Sousa said.
He said the event was “staffed based on what we were told.”
Michael Broder, Supercon owner, agreed that communications broke down but added that he did not know where the break occurred. He said convention center staff was responsible for relaying to police information about how many officers would be required based on expected attendance.
“I don’t want to place blame until we have meetings and find out,” Broder said. But, he said, there were not enough officers on the street Saturday.
“The Convention Center staff communicated that it was their exclusive domain to hire local police support, as well as act as the exclusive point of communication with police,” Broder said in a statement late Sunday. “We have every reason to believe that [ the convention center] did communicate our estimates to all necessary emergency responders.”
Supercon pays for traffic control but does not deal directly with police, Broder said.
After “traffic problems were brought to our attention at approximately 12:35 p.m. Saturday, Supercon senior management made an immediate request for additional police support via [a convention center senior event manager],even expressing willingness to absorb any additional costs associated,” the statement said. “Supercon was informed that officers were not available.”
Prior to Supercon’s Thursday opening, organizers had predicted 53,000 people would attend over the four days. But after Saturday’s traffic and parking problems, attendance dipped Sunday to 10,000, some 5,000 fewer than expected, Broder said. Overall attendance figures were not available Sunday night.
Sousa said the number of police assigned to traffic detail Sunday was double the number on duty Saturday. He declined to say what that number was.
Two Fort Lauderdale police officers were at the corner of the 17th Street Causeway and Eisenhower Boulevard on Sunday morning, directing a steady stream of traffic into the convention center.
But by midday, traffic had slowed and there was little backup at intersections.
Saturday was a different story.
Chet Simonetti, 63, drove to Fort Lauderdale from St. Petersburg to bring his two teenage daughters to Supercon on Saturday and got caught in a massive traffic jam as he tried to get to his Embassy Suites hotel room at 1100 SE 17th St.
“It took me an hour to go three blocks,” Simonetti said.
After his daughters walked to the convention center Sunday, Simonetti sat in the shade near the hotel and watched as eastbound traffic, with police direction, moved smoothly.
“Yesterday the inside lane was wall-to-wall cars,” he said. “In comparison this traffic is flowing.”
On Saturday, Simonetti said he saw no police officers at the intersections until late in the afternoon.
Several area businesses reported that sales were slowed because of the heavy traffic.
Patrick Gibson, a co-owner of Finster Murphy’s, a fish market in the Southport Center, 1497 SE 17th St., said some regular customers declined to fight traffic to get to market, or could not find a place to park once they did. Supercon patrons took many of the spaces, Gibson said.
“We lost quite a bit of business,” said Gibson. “It was the worst I’ve seen it in six years here.”
Kathy Murphy, Gibson’s partner, estimated business was down by 15 percent. “It was just craziness,” said Murphy, referring to the traffic and to the Supercon crowd, which she described as wildly costumed and — aside from taking the shopping center’s parking spots — well-mannered.
Due to the parking problem, Southport Center management hired an extra security guard to patrol the parking lot Sunday. There was no extra demand for the spaces, however.
On the south side of Southeast 17th Street, Uriah Upchurch at Batteries & Bulbs reported similar parking woes Saturday in the South Harbor Plaza. That and traffic congestion combined to cause him to lose a $400 sale in golf cart batteries when he told the customer of the difficulty in getting to the store to pick them up.
“They canceled the order,” said Upchurch. “Maybe the city just did not know how popular an event would be.”
Upchurch said he was also late for work when it took him 45 minutes to make a drive that normally takes 10.
But at Essentials Boutique, Jodi Wasserman said Supercon contributed to the biggest sale she made Saturday. After dropping off her two teenage children, a first-time customer from Weston stopped in and bought an outfit, she said. “She said she always wanted to come here, and Saturday was her chance,” said Wasserman.
According to its website, Supercon celebrates “comic books, animation, cartoons, anime, video games, cosplay, fantasy, Sci-Fi, pop culture and all things geek!”
It also describes Supercon as “the largest event of its kind in South Florida, and one of the largest of its kind in the United States.”
In the previous three years, Supercon has been held at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Asked if Supercon would return to Fort Lauderdale in 2018, Broder said, “I don’t know.
“My great hope is that police, BSO, the county, the city, the convention center, we all work together,” said Broder, who grew up in Broward County. “But there needs to be better communication and planning.”