UPDATED 12:10 p.m. | Bloomington officials said Friday they plan to terminate the city's agreement with VenuWorks, the Iowa-based firm that has been running the city-owned Grossinger Motors Arena since 2016.
The city said in a news release the termination is due to COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the venue to cancel events, though the company did receive federal Payroll Protection Program money to help it recover.
The city's five-year contract with VenuWorks was set to expire in June 2021, but the city could opt out a year early without cause.
“Current circumstances due to COVID-19 are limiting events at the arena and other venues,” City Manager Tim Gleason said. “The arena will continue to function at allowable capacity. The city will bring management of the facility in-house for the time being and evaluate our options going forward. The city is fortunate to have many talented employees that can assist with the operation of the Arena during this time.”
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said the city had a good partnership with VenuWorks, but the arrangement has run its course.
City officials said the arena’s management functions will move to existing city staff and that currently scheduled events won’t be affected.
Renner said the city could explore going with multiple management firms to cover different aspects of the venue or use Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts staff to book events.
"Maybe we even contract some of this stuff out to some local people who have expressed interest in this," Renner said. "So I think this represents an opportunity for us to make sure the arena is more of an asset to the community and to reduce the cost to taxpayers."
According to the latest figures from the city, the arena's operating loss for the first three quarters of the budget year - all before the pandemic hit - was $350,101. The city reworked its contract with VenuWorks last year to require the company to help cover annual losses that exceeded $350,000.
The termination of the agreement is effective June 8, pending city council approval.
“We have been a proud partner of the city of Bloomington since 2016. However, we understand the need to suspend our operations at the arena,” says Steve Peters, president of VenuWorks.
Renner said city staff and the council may have a few months to figure out long-term plans since the venue will likely be largely dormant for the rest of the summer.
"It will certainly be a while before we have a 7,000-seat coliseum reopened."
Grossinger Motors Arena opened in 2006 as U.S. Cellular Coliseum. City officials have touted its economic development process, but the venue has consistently lost money while the city continues to pay off the building's debt.
VenuWorks replaced Central Illinois Arena Management which operated the arena for 10 years before five of its top officials were charged in an alleged fraud scheme.
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