Calling the Centreplex a “cash drain,” Macon’s finance director Tom Barber told City Council it’s time to invest in the city’s aging entertainment and convention facilities if they’re ever going to break even, let alone turn a profit.
Yet to pay for most of the high-dollar renovations, the city would need help from a special purpose local option sales tax. Though Bibb County officials have proposed a SPLOST for a July vote, Councilman Mike Cranford said the city would be better off if this SPLOST failed. He said the city could get money for its projects sooner that way, assuming the city and county could reach a SPLOST agreement next year and the tax passes.
In April, to pay for a proposed $83 million courthouse, Bibb officials moved forward with a $183 million SPLOST vote without the city’s cooperation because the city wanted a new service delivery agreement before signing off on the SPLOST.
If the SPLOST passes in July, the city and the county must wait about three years before receiving SPLOST money for secondary projects, such as the Centreplex, because state law requires the primary project — the courthouse — be paid off first.
Had the two governments jointly signed a SPLOST agreement, they would receive money for all their projects once the SPLOST passed. If the SPLOST fails next month, it will be a year before it can be put back up for a vote.
“The city and the county would actually get their money faster if the SPLOST was brought up in a year and approved then,” Cranford said, noting it would come “as it should be” once a new service delivery agreement was reached.
For years, the city has pumped about $1.5 million annually into the Centreplex, the city’s trio of facilities including the Coliseum, City Auditorium and the Wilson Convention Center.
All three are now managed by the Noble Investment Group, the company that built the Macon Marriott City Center Hotel.
For fiscal 2011, Barber said that subsidy would drop to a little under $1 million, but he recommended the city purchase a “point-of-service” register system for $85,000.
The Centreplex doesn’t currently take credit cards or debit cards at concessions, which Barber said means the city is losing out on significant revenue as many people these days don’t carry cash.
“If we don’t invest soon, we’ll lose out,” he said.
Downtown could lose the City Auditorium, he said. Without upgrades to its roof, the auditorium could develop a mold problem, which would lead to it being “mothballed.”
Barber noted that even with significant investment, the City Auditorium won’t be a real money-maker.
But the Coliseum, which has hosted Elvis, Prince, Elton John, Led Zepplin and Bob Dylan, among other stars, could be, he said.
Right now, it has several troublesome leaks, detected recently by infrared scanning. Barber said a $150,000 patch job is the temporary solution but for the long term, the building needs a new roof, which would cost about $1 million.
He also suggested the city renovate the meeting rooms and buy collapsible risers for additional seating as well as improve transportation from the Coliseum and convention center to downtown Macon.
City Council President Miriam Paris said she has concerns about Noble’s ability to attract top headliners.
After Thursday’s meeting, Barber said he couldn’t complain about Noble’s management.
“It’s better than what we were doing,” he said.
Because the facilities have been a “cash drain,” Barber said the city didn’t want to pay for improvements, which only caused the revenue problems to increase.
Paris said the acoustics and sound need to be upgraded before major acts can be courted.
Councilman Tom Ellington agreed and said Gregg Allman was asked why his legendary rock band, the Allman Brothers Band, didn’t play at the Coliseum, which is larger than the City Auditorium, where the band played in April.
His answer, Ellington said, was that the Coliseum sounds like “a 15,000-seat men’s room.”
The Centreplex, which is operated out of the city’s enterprise fund, has a budget of about $3.6 million but brings in about $2.4 million a year in revenue.
When Noble took over, Barber noted, the company took about 200 full- and part-time city employees assigned to the Centreplex. Their pay came off the city’s books, creating an immediate significant savings, he said.
The budget reviews conclude this week with Parks and Recreation at 3 p.m., and Bowden Golf Course at 3:30 p.m. today.
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.