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.
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."