Should Century Center be privatized?

South Bend’s Century Center operated at a loss of $1.1 million in 2011 when you compare its revenues to its expenses.

Some feel that the current state of the convention business is so bad; it might be time for the city to get out.

“Unfortunately the business has changed quite dramatically with the onset of web based conferencing, tools like Skype and companies being ever more mindful of the bottom line,” said 3rd District Common Councilperson Valerie Schey.

Schey says that the Century Center losses are starting to pile up. “Last year, for 2011, they produced a $1.2 million loss, and for the two years prior they produced a $1.3 million loss,” Schey said. “That just seems like pretty poor performance.”

Back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, the Century Center was in its heyday as it hosted the International Plate Collectors Convention and crowds that routinely topped 10,000.

Now the facility not only faces competition from two nearby casinos, Indianapolis doubled its convention space when it built a new football stadium.
This weekend at the Century Center, the Northern Indiana Body Building Championships will be held on Saturday, and on Sunday, a church service will grace the grounds.

“I understand we can’t just shut it down, but I do think that we need to examine some alternatives,” said Schey.

Granted, the Century Center’s so called financial losses have basically been covered by out-of-towners who pay a special tax on hotel room rental, called the Hotel Motel Tax, and some feel that the true value of the Century Center can’t be measured solely in terms of the building’s revenues versus expenses.

Greg Downes, the President of the Century Center Board of Managers today told News Center 16 that studies show that Century Center visitors spent as much as $36.9 million in and around the community in 2005, which makes the $1.1 million dollar 2011 deficit pale in comparison.

Schey counters that by 2011, the estimated economic impact of Century Center visitors had been adjusted down to just $15 million.

“I find it a little frustrating that we would continue to operate business as usual with these venues that have seen significant loss in revenues and a significant decline in their economic impact,” said Schey.

Schey says, “ I have suggested the possibility of privatizing the Century Center perhaps seeing if there might be a developer who would be interested, interested in converting the center to office space.”
Schey says she has heard other suggestions that the Century Center could be converted into an indoor water park.

“We cannot hold on to past practices,” Schey said. “We have to pick up and move on and do things differently, and I think that’s what will be expected, that is, this is what is expected of, I know, the new council members and certainly the new mayor and the new administration.

Despite the industry ups and downs, there are those who feel that the convention business is still worth pursuing in South Bend.

Along those lines, the Studebaker Driver’s Club will hold its international meet in South Bend next week with several events booked at the Century Center starting Tuesday.

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