TAMPA — The crowd started building in the morning. By noon Sunday, it was clear to organizers of Tampa Bay Comic Con they needed a bigger venue.
The lobby at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel was swamped. A line snaked out the door to the parking lot. Hallways clogged with vendors and costumed fans. Hotel guests complained.
One, in fact, called the Fire Department.
Enter Fire Investigator Bill Mann of the Tampa Fire Marshal's Office. He showed up at 12:30 p.m., but even he had trouble squeezing into the lobby.
"They were packed in like sardines," he said.
Mann told hotel management to speak with the promoter about halting further admissions.
Action 3 Events and Promotions Inc., entering its fourth year as the two-day convention's owner, complied. It was forced to turn away hundreds.
"It was very disappointing," said Stephen Solomon, a partner in Action 3. "Especially when people have driven great distances and are being turned away, it's heartbreaking as a promoter."
Mann said that given thousands had shown up and the fact that hallways and exits were being blocked, he had no choice. "The promoter oversold the event," he said.
The main ballroom, which housed vendors, was designed for no more than 1,200 people, according to the hotel's website. Between that and the lobby, thousands were crammed in.
Solomon estimated the crowd size at close to 4,000.
Many came to see star attraction Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead. The fan favorite showed up Sunday to sign autographs and participate in a panel discussion. Saturday's events drew about 2,500.
The star's popularity, coupled with media exposure chronicling her appearance, likely sparked the outpouring, Solomon said.
For now, he said, the company is exploring ways to reimburse fans, possibly hundreds, who paid but couldn't get in. Daily admission for those over 12 was $15. The company plans to make an announcement at tampabaycomiccon.com.
In the future, he said, Action 3 will try to book the Tampa Convention Center. The next show is scheduled for Aug. 25-26. "We need a larger venue," he said.
Said Mann: "I think that's a good idea."