Fight over managing the Century Center

South Bend’s Century Center occupies a big parcel of land downtown, but a study on economic impact has raised questions about how it should be managed.

On Friday, the Century Center’s board of managers held a special meeting to figure out how to ensure that the company awarded the contract is able to increase revenue and get more use out of the facility.

Greg Downes, the President of the board of managers says regardless of who gets the contract, “booking and coordinating events needs to be easier for potential clients.

The center has been around for decades, but it has not drawn the crowds of comparable convention centers in neighboring areas.

“We can’t continue to do business the way we've done it. We've got to do better,” says Downes.

Currently, the Century Center sees an operating loss of about $1 million per year. A number that motivated the common council to step in and ask the center’s board of managers to discuss its economic impact publicly.

“It is my understanding that they wanted a transparent process,” Downes added.

The board addressed the problems including how it is marketed to companies, as well as the need for events to generate more hotel stays.

“It cannot survive on civic activity alone, says Clifton Leonard, General Manager at Double Tree, “Those numbers are good and will go a long for a management company to be profitable but not for the community itself. It is very reasonable to expect them to be able to produce room nights and show progression.”

Many are questioning the effectiveness of the current management company, Global Spectrum. Some say they want to see a more streamlined management system.

South Bend Common Council representative, Valerie Schey says, “I am very much in support of a consolidated approach to managing the city assets that provides economies of scale but also gives a more cohesive view of things.

But according to Downes, it is not just about which company is doing the managing; it is about looking at the big picture of how the Century Center is perceived.

“They are not responsible for capital improvements to this facility, yet we keep asking them to make us more competitive and to market the facility better. It's a tough thing to ask somebody to do.”

The Board of Public Works will handle all proposal submitted by management companies. Downes says they have already had inquiries from companies both regionally and nationally. The goal is to award a new contract by the first week of April.

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