South Bend Common Council votes to hear from Century Center about progress before making decision

By: Mark Peterson, Stephanie Stang Email
By: Mark Peterson, Stephanie Stang Email

A new study puts a $7.9 million price tag on the economic impact of South Bend’s Century Center.

The study comes from AECOM Technical Services, Inc. and it shows that Century Center guests accounted for 9,982 hotel room rentals in 2011.

The information will be used—in part--to decide if the management model at the convention center should be changed or remain the same.

“You have privatizing or outsourcing, which is what we’ve done for the past couple years now, or you have a self-operating model where you would bring it back in house and have one of our talented staff people (city employees) manage that asset,” said South Bend Common Council Member Valerie Schey, (D) 3rd District.

After looking at the economic impact study, Councilwoman Schey feels putting the city back in charge of the Century Center is the best way to go. “I think that (privatization) it was a method that we tried, we’ve seen that to be a failure and I think we need to consider other options.” Schey points out that the Century Center ran a $1.1 million deficit last year.

While the President of the Century Center Board of Managers looked at the same study, he came to a different conclusion. “By any measure, it’s an $8 million annual net impact, again, that’s ‘net’ economic impact, again that’s net from outside the community, it’s 10,000 room nights a year, it’s a payroll that that ends up to produce about $4 million in earnings,” said Greg Downes.

The study did identify one significant weakness in that the Century Center attracted just 14 conventions and trade shows in 2011. In comparison, the convention center in Fort Wayne chalked up 54. “One thing that quite often gets overlooked when you talk about booking conventions here is our top four hotels in South Bend, three of the four are in receivership, now how well do you think that goes over when you’re trying to book conventions.”

Downes feels the convention booking problem may be solving itself. “We’ve already booked as many conventions for 2013 as we had in 2012, we’re certainly moving in the right direction.”

The city’s current management contract with Global Spectrum is set to expire at the end of June. The City's Board of Works was set to seek bids from private companies Tuesday morning about bringing on possibly new management at the Century Center.

But with Monday night's vote there will be a delay allowing Global Spectrum time to evaluate the report and respond before a decision is made.

Downes says that moving ahead with the private company bidding process now would not prevent the Century Center board from discussing a public management option. “And I think the Century Center Board is absolutely unanimous in its approach here that we’ve got to look at every option to improve our financial performance and that includes everything I think, everything is on the table.”

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