The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 1:00 am

Pandemic could cost Coliseum millions

Approaching county to discuss furloughs, pay cuts


COVID-19 is causing big losses for Memorial Coliseum.

The Fort Wayne venue could face the cancellation of more than 100 bookings – and between $2.9 million and $3.5 million in lost revenue – before the end of the year.

The projections were presented Monday during a meeting of the facility's board of trustees. Staff laid out the impacts of social distancing and gathering limits on attendance and finances.

Board members approved approaching county officials about furloughs and pay cuts for some of the full-time county employees who work at the site as a way to cut losses.

Randy Brown, vice president and general manager, said the facility, with its arena and expo and conference center, has not hosted an event since Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 16.

“A week ago, we did a preliminary run of the April financials. We knew there was going to be a problem, but the depth was unexpected,” Brown said. Losses amounted to more than $400,000, he said.

Facility staff prepared two sets of budget projections, one in which gathering rules are loosened by August or September, and a second if they remain in effect until the end of the year.

Under the first scenario, the loss would be $2.93 million; under the second, the loss would be $3.4 million.

Brown said the facility doesn't gain by running under eased restrictions on gathering size. If social distance of 6 feet on each side of a seat is maintained, that cuts capacity size to about 1,400 people from its capacity of up to 12,500, Brown said.

That might not affect PFW basketball crowds or the Mad Ants, he said. But such attendance limits would “drastically” cut the size of possible crowds for Komets games, which typically draw 5,000 to 6,000 spectators.

Concerts expecting to draw large crowds would not be profitable at smaller crowd sizes, Brown said.

Also, keeping the facility open under social distancing rules would increase expenses for cleaning but not decrease utility expenses by much, staff members said.

The board voted unanimously to authorize staff to approach Allen County personnel officials today on what would be allowed and financially feasible for staffing under the circumstances.

About 400 people who work for catering, cleaning and security contractors already have been furloughed, staff members said.

Brown said he plans to approach Allen County Council for financial help. He said he didn't know how much would be requested, but staff members said the venue can sustain only about three months without bookings. 

The facility has run small deficits four times, Brown said, but it has never been subsidized by the county, unlike many similar venues. That fact has been promoted as a point of pride.

But, with attendance projected to be down 33% under a best-case scenario and 45% if limits extend to the end of the year, “we don't have many options here,” he said

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