sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Thursday, September 09, 2004

My version of Tuesday's City Council meeting, after watching it again on tape. The coliseum's running a deficit and is smoky.

During council discussion of the issue, I noticed Mayor Holliday appeared somewhat animated as he explained his position on the coliseum and the hockey team. He addressed what he preceived to be a misconception among the public regarding the situation.

"People tend to think hockey is the sole thing that has created the deficit at the coliseum and, as we know, that's not true," Holliday said.

City manager Ed Kitchen said that roughly 10 percent — $260,000 — of the coliseum's $2.6 million deficit was attributed to being stuck for $200,000 by the group that owned the team. He also pointed out that the economy was still struggling.

"The slow economy has cut into the available money people have to spend on this money," Kitchen said.

I personally thought coliseum manager Matt Brown did a good job explaining the situation. He pointed to other coliseums with major sports tenants who also posted losses last year. The Nashville arena, with the benefit of 41 dates by the NHL Predators lost $4.3 million last year and is on target to lose $5 million this year.

The RBC Center in Raleigh, the NHL Hurricanes and N.C. State basketball, had a $2.5 million operating loss. The Charlotte Coliseum lost $3.3 million, but it will be obsolete next year with the opening of the new downtown arena.

Brown also noted the difficulty of submitting a budget to 15-18 months ahead to operate in such a volatile business. You just never know what's going to happen, he said.

"I wish we'd had this much notoriety about our operating deficit last year when we came in 20 percent under budget," Brown said. "The number are what they are. We're very disappointed and we're addressing everything possible to assure those numbers aren't replicated this year."

Holliday then weighed in again on the hockey issue.

"We had a choice," Holliday said. "We were looking at between $400,000-$500,000 in losses by not having a hockey team. We propped it up for a year with the expectation we could break even. That's the tough job this council, and all public councils have to do. From a business perspective, I would make that choice again today."

Council member Robbie Perkins supported Holliday's view that the city was looking at even bigger losses without the hockey team. He then gave his perspective on the situation.

"At some point in time, we're going to have to look at cutting that operating deficit as low as we can cut it," Perkins said. "This body is going to have to make some judgment about whehter revenues are important or 40 years of tradition are important."

After all was said and done, the council voted 9-0 to fill the shortfall with money by outsourcing the coliseum's concessions operations.If the coliseum's operating deficit weren't depressing enough, the public found out that it's way too smoky as well.

It seems as though the coliseum for several years has been operating under a "smoking grandfather clause." When it reopened several years ago, 11 percent of space was set aside as a smoking area. The problem according to council member Sandy Carmany, is people entering the coliseum from the north gate have to walk thorugh the smoking area, which get pretty heavy on large-event nights.

"We get lots of complaints," Carmany said.

But if the smoking area were moved, it would have to increase to 20 percent according to state law. so Carmany suggested that, given the coliseum's budget situation, more money would have to be allocated to study and perhaps remedy the problem.

Holliday said the council would take that under advisement.


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