What’s the right mix for Mayo Civic Center?

August 29, 2018

Annalissa Johnson made a point Monday of the fact that she wasn’t on the Rochester City Council six years ago when a review of Mayo Civic Center operations was initiated.

“Six years ago, you came forward with a strategy of how to improve the functionality of the Civic Center. Where did it go wrong?” she asked consultant Dan Fenton, who conducted the past study and is in the middle of a new operations study for the center.

“If there was a strategy in place, and the strategy wasn’t followed, how are we going to put a strategy together and ensure that it’s followed in the future?”

Fenton pointed to several areas where the city fell short, from maintaining a focus on booking larger conventions to improving coordination between Mayo Civic Center operations and the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is now Experience Rochester.

“When it comes to what happened, that is among the observations we found,” he said.

Council Member Mark Bilderback echoed Johnson’s concerns, noting the city was left with nine recommendations from the 2012-2013 study.

“How many of the nine have they followed?” he asked.

Fenton said he couldn’t provide a black-and-white answer. “Some are to a degree, but there are opportunities in a lot of them for more,” he said.

Council Member Michael Wojcik said he doesn’t think there’s much of a gray area in at least three recommendations, calling out the new governance model, the sales and marketing efforts and a lack of communication.

“We need you to come back with some answers on those nine,” he said, calling for a detailed report of failures.

Bilderback said the study, which comes with a price tag of up to $94,500, needs to provide something different than the same recommendations.

Fenton said that message was sent during the first half of the eight-month study by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., which started in May.

He said the center’s current position leaves it lacking booked events beyond 2019.

To achieve new booking goals in the next five years, Fenton said the Experience Rochester staff must book 71 major conventions drawing 2,000 or more attendees.

What’s booked beyond 2019?

While eight major conventions are booked for 2019, only one is on the books for each of the next four years.

“This is an indicator that we have problems,” he said, noting major conventions are typically booked two to three years in advance.

Additionally, he estimated it would take 1,150 sales prospects to eventually nail down 71 bookings, due to the competitive nature for hosting such conventions.

With that in mind, Mayor Ardell Brede inquired about a list of potential conventions that was used to attract state funding to help with the $84 million renovation and expansion that was completed last year.

“We had a pretty extensive list,” he said, saying he’d like to see which calls were made and why they weren’t booked.

Experience Rochester did evaluate a list of lost conventions from 2017, looking at reasons 168 events did not come to Rochester. Location and transportation were among the top reasons cited.

Council Member Nick Campion, however, asked whether the right questions were being asked.

“It seems counterintuitive to start with optimization,” he said of the goal of finding the right mix of business for the Civic Center.

Rather, he said, the goal should be reducing the reliance of tax dollars for facility operations.

Operating Mayo Civic Center in 2017 required $1.7 million from lodging tax funds, which are paid by guests in Rochester’s hotels and motels. Under existing conditions, projections indicate the center will require an estimated $2.5 million by 2023.

Campion said he wants to see solid numbers to show what operationals changes can bring.

“I’ve been pretty clear that I want to see the financial analysis that backs this,” he said, saying he believes the goal should be establishing fiscal stability for the center.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said fiscal stability is part of the goal, along with finding community benefit through local events and creating economic impact that generates lodging tax revenue for the city.

The city collects 7 cents for every every dollar spent for a hotel room in Rochester.

While a portion of that is being used to pay for the facility’s upgrades and operations, Experience Rochester is funded with 2 cents for every dollar spent.

Monday, Wojcik requested the City Council take the first step toward potentially revising the agreement that funds Experience Rochester. While the city’s contract with the nonprofit continues through 2019, it require a one-year notice for potential changes.

In the meantime, Fenton said work will continue on the Mayo Civic Center study, with plans to bring the council financial estimates for proposed changes, as well as a better understanding of where past recommendations failed.

“It is going to take a rethink,” he said of the future for Mayo Civic Center operations. “There’s no doubt about it.”

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