Council ponders two options for Mayo Civic Center operations

November 30, 2018

The Rochester City Council agreed Wednesday that how the Mayo Civic Center operates must change.

“We need to find a way to make the facility work, because were are not going to unbuild it,” Council Member Nick Campion said of the city-owned facility that recently underwent an $84 million renovation and expansion.

While they agreed the operational model needs to change, council members stopped short of adopting a plan to put overall management in private hands.

“This resolution doesn’t actually say ‘private’ anywhere,” Council Member Michael Wojcik said of a proposal to move toward creating an authority to oversee operations and marketing of the Civic Center.

Operations are currently in the hands of city staff, while marketing efforts are conducted by Experience Rochester, the private agency formerly known as the Rochester Convention Visitors Bureau.

While the original proposal referred to establishing a nonprofit agency to oversee the combined efforts, council members opted to keep the option open for the city to maintain authority.

Campion said direct local government control over operations and marketing would ensure greater transparency when it comes to determining whether the facility was hitting fiscal and other targets.

“I want everyone to be on a level playing field,” he said.

Acknowledging a private nonprofit organization would have different data-practices expectations than a city-run operation, he said he favors city control.

Council Member Mark Hickey said he wasn’t ready to support such a move, noting it would be at odds with the proposal presented by City Administrator Steve Rymer and consultant Dan Fenton, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

In June, several city council members indicated they opposed the city expanding oversight to include marketing of the facility and city, which was one of six potential operating models presented at the time.

Fenton said last week that was one of the reasons the task force recommended turning operations over to a nonprofit agency.

Wednesday, Council Member Mark Bilderback said both options should remain in play.

“As much as I like the idea of a city-run operation, I do want to give staff the opportunity to explore all areas and come back with the best option,” he said.

Wojcik said he wasn’t ready to rule out working with a private nonprofit agency but noted government oversight ensures the transparency he wants.

He said he’d expect the mayor and council to maintain control of appointing members of the board that helps oversee the facility, which City Attorney Jason Loos said would likely not be possible with a private agency in charge.

Campion said the amount of control the council will have over the board, which would oversee spending of a portion of lodging tax funds, could factor heavily on what direction is taken.

“That question will determine whether it’s ‘oversight theater’ or actual oversight,” he said.

Rymer said he will bring answers to the council’s questions to a Dec. 10 informational meeting, at which time he plans to ask for further direction regarding options for oversight of a combined operation.

“That will be key for identifying the timeline,” he said, noting a change in operations would likely be expected in 2020.

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