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Mayor Mwilambwe: No promises about financial turnaround from arena management shift

Mboka Mwilambwe
Emily Bollinger
Mboka Mwilambwe

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said the city's move to merge operations between the arena and Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) will help the downtown venues run more efficiently, but it's too soon to project whether the arena will be able to reverse years of financial losses.

“I do not want to set us up for failure. I don’t want to make the same mistake that’s been made in the past in promising people that the venues would make money,” said Mwilambwe, referring to comments previous city officials have made about the venue’s financial viability.

The firm that previously ran the arena, VenuWorks, told city leaders after taking over arena management the venue would likely not be able to make money. The city ended its contract with VenuWorks in May 2020 when the arena was dormant during the early stages of the COVID pandemic and the city decided to bring its operations in house for the first time since it opened in 2006.

In an interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Mwilambwe said he sees the arena and BCPA as quality-of-life venues that provide an economic boost to nearby businesses.

"If you are lucky one year you might break even and could make even a little profit, but I think generally though that's not the intent. The intent is to be able to provide entertainment for folks," Mwilambwe said.

The city's first arts and entertainment director, Anthony Nelson,started last week. His arrival follows a period of turmoil at the BCPA. Former director Jim Mack pleaded guilty last year to a domestic battery charge. Artistic director JongHun Kim was fired in February for a series of reported violations, including bullying staff. A production manager also left.

Mwilambwe did not address the recent departures, but said he believes Nelson will be successful in promoting a strong work culture. “That’s why Anthony was hired,” the mayor said. “He has demonstrated within the past year that he can put together a great season and he had a team he worked with, and we are all prepared to go forward and support him in the new role.”

Nelson served the past year as the business manager for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department and served as Miller Park Zoo interim director and team lead for the BCPA. Prior to that, Nelson was the zoo’s business manager for six years.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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