The new executive director of the Downtown Bloomington coliseum expects a multi-million dollar economic impact on the community from the arena and says an adjacent hotel and conference center would only help.
The coliseum has been controversial since the Bloomington Council moved forward on the facility in 2004 after a non-binding referendum indicated a 2-1 margin against building the facility and issuing the 35-million dollars in bonds to pay for it. Previous arena management reported an operating loss of $500,000 last year.
The Bloomington City Council unanimously approved a 5-year contract about a month ago with Ames, Iowa-based VenuWorks to manage the facility, taking over from Central Illinois Arena Management who stepped away after increased calls for transparency.
It's not unusual for arenas in secondary markets, like the coliseum in Bloomington, to experience some controversy about being built or about a continuing government operating subsidy according to Curtis Webb, Executive Director of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. He's managed facilities for VenuWorks in Dallas, Colorado, Cleveland, Nebraska and most recently, Bemidji, Minnesota. During Sound Ideas, when asked if municipalities should subsidize quality of life amenities like the coliseum, Webb said, "I do think it's something you look at in a community."
Webb said he's not been given specific direction by the city in how to manage the facility financially.
"We want to decrease the deficit at this point, run an effective operation, and be a good steward of public funds. And if we can be transparent to the community, I think that will be a big aspect for us."
Webb said the facility is situated well in central Illinois, at the cross roads of three interstates and between VenuWorks facilities in Evansville, Indiana and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said there are booking opportunities across VenuWorks properties. He said Bloomington geography is a greater challenge with the coliseum located at the edge of Downtown. And there's no hotel-convention center.
"I know its been a hot topic in this community," said Webb. "It can only go to help what we're doing. It gives us the ability to multiple events. Generally in the convention business you're slow in the winter months and busy in the summer especially in this neck of the woods. it's the opposite in the arena so it keeps staff busy throughout the whole entire year."
Webb agreed a downtown hotel and convention center would work well with the arena and said a hotel and convention center can create an "economic spinoff" in conjunction with the an arena.
"If everyone is doing their job right, the hoteliers are busy, the restaurants are busy and people buying gas at our gas stations, all that," said Webb.
Webb said VenuWorks would have an economic impact report after about a year of operation. In Bemidji, Minnesota, the company calculated the Sanford Center provided a $24 million economic impact for the community. He expects the economic impact in Bloomington to be greater.
He also said the coliseum is working to find a company interested in naming rights. Working with the city, Webb said 14 companies have been identified. He said he'd like to have the naming rights resolved in October.