Council questions Century Center management after years of losses

Members of the Common Council questioned the management of the Century Center during a committee meeting Thursday as the mayor's office asked for a contract extension.

Global Spectrum's contract goes until Dec. 31, but the mayor would like to extend it six months to June 30, 2013 to align it with other contracts within the Century Center.

Several council members expressed concern as they pointed to a nearly $1.2 million loss in 2011.

"Having worked in the private sector for my entire career before moving into the public sector, you just would not renew a contract with a company that is on the record for sustaining that kind of loss," said Valerie Schey (D) - District 3.

Others pointed to a history of losses for the building even before Global Spectrum took over in 2007. The city said the Century Center was never intended to generate a profit for South Bend, but instead provide a positive economic impact for the city.

A civilian appointee points out in 2005 the Century Center had an economic impact of $36.9 million. In 2008 it brought in nearly $22.7 million. As the economy began to struggle, so did the convention center. In 2011 it's estimated to have generated only $15 million, which is believed to be a more significant drop than similar sized cities.

While the city comptroller agreed a review of management was needed, he doesn't want there to be a knee jerk reaction.

“At the same time we want to make sure we're being thoughtful and not make the same significant decisions that might not be consistent with the overall vision for the overall downtown,” said City Comptroller Mark Neal.

For the past six months the administration has been performing a top-down review of the city. It is now working to take the findings and create a master plan for all of its assets, including those downtown, such as the Century Center.

"We want to look at the assets so that in the decisions we're making they're part of an overall plan as to what we expect to derive in terms of quality of life, economic return for the citizens of South Bend," said Neal.

The plan is expected to be completed by the end of the year, but the council believes with the proposed six month extension it will be too long before change can occur.

“Right now we're operating without a plan and to operating without a plan and to be asked to renew a contract, an expensive contract, that has so far produced a loss is just really hard to stomach,” said Schey.

The Century Center Board is expected vote next week whether to extend the contract. The Parks, Recreation, Cultural Arts and Entertainment Committee of the council didn't give a clear indication of how it would like the vote to go. Schey said they will collect information from citizens and present their opinion to the appointees before the vote.

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