Convention center business drops, but bottom line good

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 29, 2009

The number of events at the Vicksburg Convention Center and Vicksburg Auditorium was down over the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, but Larry Gawronski told the facilities’ advisory board Wednesday the bottom line was nonetheless improved.

“This was a great year for us. We have reason to celebrate,” said Gawronski, executive director of Venuworks, which manages both facilities under city contract. “I can definitely tell you we exceeded budget expectations in a year of continued downturn. It’s with confidence that we enter 2009-10.”

A total of 186 bookings, primarily banquets and meetings, were logged at the public facilities from Sept. 1, 2008, through Aug. 30 — down from 211 total events in fiscal year 2007-08. Event usage days dropped to 205 days from 253 days. Gawronski said overall attendance at the events was up, but the average booking was for fewer days and generated fewer hotel stays.

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“They’re still meeting; they’re just meeting more frugally,” Gawronski said. “Rather than it being a three-day conference and everybody staying overnight, they’ve knocked it down to two days, or a day and a half, and everybody is day-tripping. They’re not staying overnight and they’re not spending the extra money they used to.”

Fewer events resulted in the auditorium bringing in 11 percent less revenue than expected, while the convention center exceeded revenue expectations by 20 percent. Conversely, expenses were over budget by 6 percent at the convention center, while the auditorium kept costs 8 percent below budget despite having to replace the roof and rigging at a cost of about $100,000.

Revenue figures were aided by an approximately 7 percent increase in rental rates at both facilities beginning Nov. 1, 2008 — one month into last fiscal year. Gawronski said it was the first rate increase since Venuworks began management of the convention center and auditorium in April 2001.

Along with the rate increase, an unexpected increase in the 2 percent tax levied on hotel stays benefited the bottom line. The lodging tax netted roughly $480,000 for the facilities, compared to the budgeted $440,000, which is how much has been generated on average in years past.

When applied to the convention center and auditorium total operating deficit — a combined $822,291 last fiscal year — the hotel tax reduced the city’s contribution to the facilities to $342,291.

The city’s contribution came in at 16 percent below the expected deficit, which was $408,125.

A Venuworks pledge has been to keep reducing the supplement from general tax funds that supports operations. The deficit was about $650,000 eight years ago, but that included payments on 10-year bonds issued for convention center construction. Gawronski two years ago pledged to cut the city’s annual contribution to the convention center — then about $350,000 — by 50 percent in three years. The convention center accounted for $172,111 of the city’s total contribution last fiscal year.

“I’m pleased to report that at the end of two years — one year early — we’ve surpassed our goal,” Gawronski said. “We hope to hold that line this year, and we are certainly proud that the numbers we promised the city in three years, we have achieved in two.”

Gawronski said business at the convention center and auditorium last fiscal year generated $2.16 million in direct spending in Vicksburg — 12 times the city’s annual investment in the facilities — and had a $5 million economic impact locally. The latter figure is generated by assuming 60 percent of every dollar directly spent is recirculated through the local economy four times, Gawronski said.

“It’s well worth the investment,” Gawronski said of the city’s continual investment in the convention center and auditorium. “I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t pull $1 out of their pocket to make $12.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at