October 3, 2008

Festival Hall executive director suddenly replaced

There's been a change at the top at Festival Hall.

VenuWorks, the Ames, Iowa, company hired by the city four years ago to manage Festival Hall, Memorial Hall and Festival Park "accepted the resignation" of Jim Walczak, executive director, on Tuesday. Ben Hughes, Racine city administrator, said the city had nothing to do with Walczak's sudden departure; "VenuWorks came to us with it," he said.

Doug Kuhnel, senior vice president of VenuWorks, is in Racine to serve as interim director until a permanent replacement for Walczak is named. Mayor Gary Becker and Hughes interviewed three candidates for the job yesterday, all from outside Wisconsin. The new director will be an employee of VenuWorks, not the city, but "VenuWorks cares about our comfort level," Hughes said.

Jim Walczak during installation of the ClearSpan building

Walczak accomplished much during his four years as executive director, including cutting $200,000 in costs from the facilities' operational expenses and spending funds on necessary capital improvements. Most noticeable is the ClearSpan tent building erected in June over the old ice rink.

Hughes said, "We appreciate the service that Jim gave to the city."

He added, "It's time for a fresh look at Memorial Hall and Festival Hall. We're looking forward to a new chapter. We will be more assertive than ever at having the executive director go out and market the city. We know we're never going to get a Bruce Springsteen to come to Memorial Hall, but we think we have two wonderful facilities that can be marketed even more aggressively." He suggested "musical acts, comedians, children's' shows. We think Memorial and Festival Hall can be used by local businesses... In Memorial Hall there are wonderful rooms on the second and third floors that can be marketed even better."

Walczak had said some of the same things back in April (see HERE), but since then Festival Hall lost big when HarborFest was cancelled. Two years ago it lost the Downtown Racine Corporation's Festival of Trees, which filled Festival Hall for 10 days.

Under the city's management, Festival Hall had a deficit anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 a year. Said Hughes, "Jim did a very good job in the transition from a city-run facility to a privately-run facility. There were savings in maintenance fees, private contracts for setup and events. He did turn it around and we're grateful for that."

But the deficits continue unabated. "We were hoping at some point we'd eliminate the deficit and run these facilities at break-even," Hughes said."It's been a challenge. 2007 and 2008 were very challenging."


  1. Of course I believe the city had nothing to do with the firing (NOT)!

  2. Jim moved heaven and earth to make Festival Hall the very best it could be. I believe that the City had nothing to do with this like I believe the Mayor has not screwed around in office.
    I hope the Post can find out what went down.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. "accepted the resignation of Jim Walczak, executive director, on Tuesday" then "Mayor Gary Becker and Hughes interviewed three candidates for the job yesterday (Thursday), all from outside Wisconsin"

    Wow! Someone resigns and within two days the job is advertized, applicants are screened, three make travel plans and fly here and are interviewed. THIS is the efficient, speedy way government is supposed to work!

    Surely the Racine Post does not actually believe this nonsense and will dig a bit deeper.

  5. I must say there are some interesting information being discussed.
    My thought is yet another law suit on Racine how many would that be?

  6. Get Some Thick Skin Post10/04/2008 7:34 PM

    I guess the Post has thinner skin than I thought. I thought the JT was bad!! LOL. I will repost this clean. I stated several issues regarding this guy when he was hired and 99.9% of you people jumped all over me, calling me all sorts of things that I don't remember the post deleting. Hmmmm?? Anyway, Now what?? Cat got your tongues?? You can all apologize to me one after the other. Who's first?? C'mon, step up to the plate. Do what's right. Oh, I forgot, this is Racine, no one accepts responsibility in this city when they are wrong. God I am good, I really am.... (waving the finger to all of you)...

  7. Once again Colt you completely miss the mark on your "not so astute" analysis of Racine going ons. "Jim moved heaven and earth"? Come on! Where is harborfest, where is festival of trees, where are the concerts that were promised? Where is the cost dsavings from outsourcing? Maybe you can get Mayor Shakoor to get to nthe bottom of this "scandal".

  8. "Where is harborfest, where is festival of trees,"?

    This was Jim's job to do those events
    or to cut them sweetheart deals so the groups backing them made money?
    Harborfest gave how much notice about not doing one this year?
    And the DRC Festival of Trees yes of course my understanding is that DRC wanted the world for nothing.

    Jim was after events that folks wanted to go to and put on by groups that could pay for them.
    The DRC who has the backing of J-Wax has more money then GOD so why should they ask Jim for sweetheart deals? What are they doing with the $$ they get now? From "Managing" BID 1 to the income from beer sales at first friday's to the ticket sales at POP. WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH IT?

  9. so Colt, are you saying Jim did a great job marketing the facilities and should not have left? If so, you better get down to the next council meeting and start raising questions. This stuff has got to stop and you seem to be in the know on a lot of this. Colt for Mayor!!!

  10. Jim did the best job he could, I belive the Post in the days to come will report of all the difficulties with the buildings and the lack of funds to fix them
    The issues Jim found when he first took over.
    The issues Jim had just finding good help.
    The war he fought with groups like the DRC

    Yes Q.A sure would look into this and other matters as Mayor as Would Mayor Kares
    God save us from a Mayor Maack or Helding

  11. I am familiar w

  12. Again - and keeping in mind that this was all "sudden" - how can someone resign on a Tuesday and three candidates interview two days later?

  13. colt - you always come on here talking junk about secret deals and alluding to problems at city hall. If things are that bad - come out with it! You could start with this:

    "report of all the difficulties with the buildings and the lack of funds to fix them
    The issues Jim found when he first took over.
    The issues Jim had just finding good help.
    The war he fought with groups like the DRC "

    and then provide details about all the so-called lawsuits against the city.

  14. Colt-

    1. The city has contracted with a private firm to run festival park.

    2. Jim W. worked for the private firm-not for the city.

    3. If Jim W. resigned-maybe the company knew about it two weeks ago and had internal candidates they could move around. Jim W. was not from Racine-he came from elsewhere.

    4. Why couldnt Jim W keep good help-it couldnt be the city's fault-they were working for a private firm.

    4. The firm made many promises when they got the contract-maybe you should find out how well they have done delivering on those.

    You come on these blogs and rant and rave. Three weeks ago you said the mayor would be recalled, then you said we didn't need the recall beacuse he was going down. Aint seen it yet.

    You may want to see a conspiracy under every rock but until you can produce some evidence, maybe you should keep your far fetched ideas to yourself.

  15. Gee for a "nut case" sure have you worked up.
    Few believe the spin out of City Hall anymore The Mayor has no cloths more and more are seeing this can someone give him a robe

  16. It looks like you are the one with no clothes. For a "pschic" you surehave misssed the mark on anumber of key issues including the recall.

  17. Colt -

    Please, for the sake of those who read the blogs, learn how to spell and formulate a sentence.