January 29, 2009

Civic Centre problems aired as Commission (finally) meets

The Racine Civic Centre -- better known as Festival Hall and Memorial Hall -- is losing gobs of money, but turning away events because it doesn't have the staff to handle them.

That was just one of the tidbits to come out of Wednesday's meeting of the Civic Centre Commission supposed to oversee the private company hired to run the Civic Centre.

Other surprises:
  • Jerry Lopez, the Civic Centre's Operations Manager who had overseen set-up and take-down of countless events for more than a decade is gone. He was "not fired," insisted Rik Edgar, executive director, but rather "restructured" out of his job. "We went in a different direction with our staff," Edgar said.
  • Losses last year far exceeded the $350,000 budgeted. Another $155,000 had to be provided by the city at the end of 2008 to close out the year.
  • Wednesday's meeting was the commission's first since Edgar was hired on Oct. 27, 2008, about three weeks after his predecessor was fired, apparently for not attracting more events. The center is run by VenuWorks, an Ames, Iowa, company hired by the city four years ago.
  • Out of 11 meetings in 2008, the commission had a quorum at just three. Current chairman, District 1 Alderman Jeff Coe, said he expects the City Council to fill two vacancies on the nine-member Commission on Feb. 3. Four of the present seven members were present: Coe, Andy Kindsvater, Nicholas Yackley and J.J. McAuliffe..
The main subject of Wednesday's meeting was a series of complaints brought by Matt and Annette Flynn, who run Sophisticatering of Kenosha, one of eight companies who have paid the Civic Centre for the right to cater events there (in return for 10% of their receipts). They charged that one of their customers was called by a competing catering firm just 30 minutes after she called the Civic Centre to inquire about renting the hall; that another customer who wanted to hold a birthday party for up to 200 people was told there were no available dates in January or February 2009; that they were told there were no Saturday openings in July or August for a 1,000-person reunion.

"It looks like people here don't want to work weekends, and are saying 'we're booked' when prospective customers call," Matt said. He quoted his customer as saying, "They're pressuring me that Fiesta Catering is the only one here."

Edgar replied that the Civic Centre staff has been cut to three full-time employees -- "We purposely run light in winter." -- so they were unable to host events simultaneously at both Festival Hall and Memorial Hall (more employees are being trained and hired now). He earlier told Sophisticatering that the employee responsible for tipping off their competitor, Fiesta Catering of Kenosha, has been fired, and reiterated that there are no dates in July or August compatible with the 1,000-person reunion.

Some of the discussion devolved into he said/she said. David Perez, of Fiesta Catering, regretted that his company "is being dragged through the sewer," and denied getting any preferential treatment. Noting that Fiesta only handled five small events at the Civic Centre in 2008, Edgar said, "If we're giving them preferential treatment, we're not doing a good job of it."

"The bottom line," said Matt Flynn, "is that it's unfortunate we had to turn people away." Coe tried to act as a mediator, saying, "We've got to see how we can make this grow. We don't need people reading that things are bad down here." "How do we move forward?" Flynn answered his own rhetorical question: "By not having these kinds of problems in the future."

Moving forward, Edgar was happy to discuss some recent successes, like keeping the Journal Times' car show, after a decision had been made to move it elsewhere. He also announced a verbal commitment received Wednesday from the Teacup Dogs Agility Association for a three-day show on Oct. 9-11. Teacup Dogs' website -- "to provide a competitive venue for dogs of small stature without regard to breed or pedigree" -- doesn't yet list Racine as the location of its 2009 event. (Wait... now it does!)

Update: An alderman was overheard at Thursday's night's special meeting telling a city official: "We have to get the Civic Centre fixed." The official agreed.

15 comments:

  1. Ya know, after 51 years of living in this city, I'm starting to realize that it is a sh*thole. I will be moving soon. God bless you all.

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  2. Interesting... I was told there were No Saturdays available In July or August and today Some guy named Rick called and told me there were two. Must be because of this article? One date he offered today (August 15th) would have been perfect, but he said he did not offer it because they have a TENTATIVE event scheduled... So we booked the North Beach Oasis for our reunion. Who lost out here... I would assume Sophisticatering lost literally $1000's of dollar in revenue as they would have catered the event and the City of Racine as well.

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  3. concerned caterer1/29/2009 4:48 PM

    In a comment to this statement...
    "Noting that Fiesta only handled five small events at the Civic Centre in 2008, Edgar said, "If we're giving them preferential treatment, we're not doing a good job of it."

    While it was nice of Mr. Edgar to show catering revenue report from the events held in 2008, it is the 2009-2010 calendar that would need to be reviewed to see if indeed events may have been directed to a specific Caterer. (events are normally booked at least 1-2 years out)

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  4. The Post should talk to what Jim found when he took over. Very interesting info also maybe one of the reasons why Becker wanted Jim gone

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  5. inquisitive tax payer1/29/2009 8:56 PM

    What is more interesting is that the minutes and agendas from Civic Center Commission meetings dating back to 2006 have been removed overnight from the City of Racine Web site. Is this damage control?

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  6. It’s nothing but greed. When it was first opened EVERY weekend was booked and many days and nights. Now...it is nothing but a tax burden for Racine taxpayers. It needs to be sold and not subsidized by the city.

    The list of festivals leaving every year has to be an indicator something is wrong. And what do they all say, cost too much!

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  7. I used it when Jim still ran the place top notch.
    Lately been hearing one horror story after another know of one group that wanted to use the place called many times could not get a return call.
    Tear it down make it a park or put the West Racine project there!

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  8. inquisitive tax payer1/30/2009 9:30 AM

    Well.... now the Civic Center Commission Meetings are back on the City of Racine Web Site with the agendas but where are the minutes? Whoever is monitoring this...could you please put the minutes back on. I would be very interested in reading these.

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  9. Why is our Civic Centre being (mis)managed by some out-of-town unknowns? Let Jeff Coe and Jerry Lopez manage it. The savings could be used to hire sufficient staff to run it more efficiently.

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  10. inquisitive tax payer1/30/2009 1:09 PM

    "Under a flexible, five-year contract, the city will pay Compass Facility Management a flat annual fee of $600,000 to manage the facility, Donnie Snow, the city's director of parks, recreation and cultural services, said Monday"

    As the city enters the final year of this contract, what are the city's plans for the future?

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  11. inquisitive tax payer1/30/2009 1:09 PM

    "Under a flexible, five-year contract, the city will pay Compass Facility Management a flat annual fee of $600,000 to manage the facility, Donnie Snow, the city's director of parks, recreation and cultural services, said Monday"

    As the city enters the final year of this contract, what are the city's plans for the future?

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  12. This telling people dates are unavailable for booking when they really are available could easily be solved in this day and age by having a PUBLIC online calendar with PUBLIC viewing of booking dates for a PUBLIC facility. Imagine how easy it would be for prospective wedding customers to go online to see if they should wed in July or August-it would free up staff time immensely from answering questions & reviewing calendars for call after call to see what date is available...

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  13. Unless the Center is marketed aggressively something Jim wanted to do. Note that means more then a worthless web page and ads on WRJN and CAR 25. The Center is going to stay empty.
    If that is going to be the case let's tear it down and start all over.

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  14. concerned caterer1/31/2009 9:53 AM

    No amount of aggressive marketing will help when people contacting the center are turned away. The Director removed the contact person responsible for directing business to their own preferred caterer, to placing that responsibility in the hands of the person responsible for falsely claiming that the center was booked. The Director needs to take over these duties and be held accountable for the results of his efforts.

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  15. CC

    If (he) contact person responsible for directing business to their own preferred caterer was doing this would that not be a crime and should be looked into?
    What other interesting actives been going on? Hope that the Post looks into this.
    Thinking maybe Jim's trying to stop this is what got him fired and perhaps many where getting kick backs

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