The tourist city of Anaheim is inching back to life thanks to loosened pandemic restrictions that will allow its theme parks to reopen next month, its mayor says.
“This is the brightest day yet in this pandemic,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said during a March 11 press conference.
“We now have a path forward for the Disneyland Resort, and Angel’s Baseball. Today, I proudly declare the Anaheim comeback.”
Sidhu’s enthusiasm was dampened by the continued closure of the Anaheim Convention Center at the Westin Anaheim Resort, and the toll the pandemic has taken on the city.
“Sadly, we have lost more than 760 people to the coronavirus in Anaheim,” said the tearful mayor. “There’s not a day we don’t want to think about them.”
Other local officials called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to further revive the economy by setting guidelines to open the Anaheim Convention Center at the Westin Anaheim Resort.
State health officials announced on March 5 that theme parks and stadiums can reopen in the red tier with limited capacities beginning April 1. However, California has not yet set guidelines to reopen convention centers.
“These are essential and needed now to restore the jobs and economic vitality of our region,” Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament said during the press conference.
The ongoing closure of the Anaheim Convention Center could put the city at risk of losing convention-based industry events, advocates for the facility’s reopening said.
Jay Burress, president of Visit Anaheim, joined cries to resume operations at the center.
“California is potentially at a catastrophic economic disadvantage if the governor delays much longer to release guidelines and a timeline for reopening convention centers and hotel meetings and events,” Burress said.
He said while all other states are “holding conventions and business meetings safely, California is the only state in the nation not to open for convention-based businesses.”
Other states have been able to “poach” conventions, trade shows, and business meetings that would otherwise take place in California, he added.
“Business meetings, trade shows, and conventions are a major driver of California’s broader tourism industry—accounting for $66.1 billion in direct spending and 457,000 jobs in 2019,” Burress said.
He said that this is costing the city reserve business for future events planned later this year and even in three to five years.
Paul Sanford, chief executive of Wincome Hospitality and owner of the Westin Anaheim Resort, said the most recent updates to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy failed to mention anything about corporate events at convention centers.
“They leave our industry blank,” Sanford said. “We have no answers.”
Sanford said he spent more than $300 million on the Westin Anaheim Resort and aspired to make it a four-diamond hotel on the Anaheim Convention Center campus.
“This property has been finished for six months, and is sitting empty,” he said.
The next step to getting the economy back on track is to reopen the convention center, hotels, conference facilities, weddings, social events, and major business meetings. Sanford told reporters.
“They are absolutely essential to revitalize the overall health of the Anaheim economy, and regional Orange County livelihood,” Sanford said.
“I am personally very frustrated that every other state has guidelines and has been able to smartly poach or take our business.”
An Optimistic Outlook
Lucy Dunn, chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, said she was hopeful that the county would bounce back.
“Orange County has thrived, usually recovering sooner than all of our surrounding counties,” Dunn said. “We should actually call ourselves the capital of Southern California, because of our economic recovery and our strong business senses here.”
Greg Coleman and his mother, Linda Hunter, longtime owners of an Anaheim convenience store, said they’re looking forward to an increase in tourism as a result of the governor’s guidelines.
“Everything that we’ve gone through, it’s been difficult,” Coleman said. “We’ve had loans, grants, and those are pretty much out. With the new guidelines coming out, we are looking forward to all the tourists coming … We want to continue. We need the Anaheim Convention Center to come up. We need the Honda center to come up—following all the guidelines.”