published Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Con Nooga busting seams

Sci-fi expo expands scope, starts Friday


Dakota Faricelli inspects the Star Wars astromech droid, R3T2, at the 2012 Con Nooga convention.
Dakota Faricelli inspects the Star Wars astromech droid, R3T2, at the 2012 Con Nooga convention.
Photo by Staff File Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Con Nooga fandom convention

When and where: 3 p.m. Friday, March 1, through 3 p.m. Sunday, March 3 at Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St. Exhibitor hall open noon-7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza (shuttle buses will run)

Admission: Three-day membership $40 adults, $15 ages 6-13; single-day memberships $25 Friday, $35 Saturday and $15 Sunday; Exhibition hall-only membership is $15 Friday and Saturday, $10 Sunday

Website: www.connooga.com

SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS

Over the course of three days, Con Nooga will offer about 190 events appealing to fans of a wide variety of media. Here are some of con chair Todd Patton's personal favorites:

• Con Nooga Saber Idol (5:30-7:30 p.m. and 8-9:30 p.m. Saturday in the Choo Choo's Imperial Ballroom). Contestants compete to see who has the most impressive light saber twirling skills.

• Costume contest (7-8 p.m. Saturday in the Choo Choo's Imperial Ballroom). Entrants show off their inventive, funny and elaborate costumes for prizes in a variety of categories.

• Ms. Biogamer Girl (noon-2 p.m. Saturday in Choo Choo's Centennial Theater). This event replaces the convention's traditional Ms. Con Nooga competition.

• Battle of Makeup (noon-1:30 p.m. Sunday in the Convention Center's Panel Room 12). Contestants are given one hour to use the tools in a surprise equipment kit to win over judges with their makeup skills.

• Big Wheel Racing (12:30-2 p.m. Sunday outside Track 29 at the Choo Choo). Think only kids like to ride in these? Think again. Big kids like Big Wheels too. Also, purposefully crashing into each other.

Like the Hulk suddenly discovering that Bruce Banner's pants are a few sizes too small, the organizers of Con Nooga this year realized that, thanks to years of continuous growth, they needed more space than the Chattanooga Choo Choo could provide.

When the city's largest fandom convention opens its doors for the sixth time Friday, it will sprawl across 55,000 square feet at the Choo Choo as well as an additional 40,000 square feet at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

"This will about double us in size," said con chairman Todd Patton. "We've budgeted for it the last two years. It's one of those things we were wanting to do, but it takes time to get there."

In years past, Patton said, the convention has sold out space in its exhibitor hall at Track 29 by Halloween. As a result, organizers were turning away merchandise dealers and celebrity guests.

This year, the convention center will serve as the new exhibitor hall, where there is space for an additional 80 booths, bringing the total to 190. There, attendees will be able to meet and get autographs from dozens of celebrity guests as well as purchase a variety of collectibles, including figurines, comics and costume accessories.

The Convention Center also has doubled Con Nooga's space for programming. During the day, Patton said, the programming will be focused there and, as evening approaches, concerts, dances and room parties will shift the focus back to the Choo Choo. Shuttle service will be available between the two locations.

On Saturday morning, Con Nooga will host its inaugural parade, which will follow a path from the Choo Choo to 13th Street before concluding at the Convention Center.

More than 100 special guests have been selected this year, including comic-book artists, zombies from "The Walking Dead" and Temuera Morrison and Daniel Logan, who portrayed bounty hunters Jango and Boba Fett in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

"Those two guys have never been to a convention outside of a Disney- or Star Wars-based convention, so this is a big deal," Patton said of Morrison and Logan. "We're excited about that."

Patton added that he expects attendance this year to be about 2,300, based on the annual growth of about 250 guests a year since the convention started.

Con Nooga was originally based on Atlanta's much-larger DragonCon convention, which draws about 50,000 attendees a year. Despite this year's expansion and a second proposed expansion in 2016, Patton said Con Nooga organizers are being careful to keep the event welcoming and accessible to newcomers.

"Con Nooga isn't so big that it'll scare you to death, but it prepares you for going to DragonCon so you won't get hit with shell shock," he said, laughing. "We didn't want to grow too much because we don't want to lose that character."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

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