Fort Smith directors back funding push for Convention Center
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — The Fort Smith Board of Directors previously questioned the value of subsidizing the Convention Center. It was worried about supporting the facility with other things in need of attention. Directors said recently, however, it’s worth the investment.
According to the presentation, the facility’s overall revenue exceeded $833,000 — roughly $45,000 more than in 2017 — for the best year since it opened. The city of Fort Smith paid almost $775,500 toward the Convention Center’s operations, which also increased its number of events to 264 and event days to 276.
Expenses for the center finished at approximately $1.6 million, which is an increase from $1.4 million the year before. Most of these increases were due to planned facility repairs and capital purchases, increased rental costs and the need for more labor.
General Manager Tim Seeburg said the facility also needed a non-budgeted $8,000 roof repair on the north rotunda following a windstorm, the Southwest Times-Record reported. Insurance didn’t cover the cost of the project, because the value didn’t meet the center’s $10,000 deductible.
Despite the expenses, the Convention Center’s overall out-of-town economic impact from 26 events was almost $8.9 million, Seeburg said, with $230,000 coming in through sales tax alone.
The events used to calculate the impact were larger and had hotel room blocks that could be tracked, Seeburg said.
Legris noted the estimates don’t include smaller, more local events that generate revenue and potential overnight stays. This means the financial impact is greater than what was presented. Legris said the Advertising and Promotion Commission is conservative with its estimates.
“If we look at our total sales, add in the tax back to the city, and then you subtract our total number of expenses, we’re out half a million dollars,” said At-large Director Neal Martin. “Basically, the way I look at that is, we spent $495,000 to make $8.8 million. That’s a pretty good rate of return.”
Ward 1 Director Keith Lau said someone could be skeptical and cut the rate in half twice to $2.2 million. The amount, he believes, shows the importance of Fort Smith retaining an event center.
“It’s worth keeping open. The question is how do we fund it with all the other budgetary constraints that we have,” Lau said, noting the Fire and Police Departments, whose funding also come from the general fund.
The facility evaluates its performance using surveys from clients and by comparing itself to other venues across the nation. It looks at corresponding revenue brought in by similar facilities, notes the differences in types of structures it’s competing against — some centers may have athletics arenas — income streams and city size.
Martin said the Convention Center, despite its needs for upgrades and the board’s previous concerns, “makes a case for itself.”
“We appreciate your support and your underwriting of the operation, facility and your confidence in us,” Legris said.
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/