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The Greater Greensboro Observer
September 14, 2004

Council Addresses Coliseum Shortfall
By Sam A. Hieb


It wasn't the best of dates for the Greensboro Coliseum.

The City Council met Tuesday night to dose a $2.6 million deficit in the coliseum's operating expenses. While that bit of business was taken care of, what to do about its problem with cigarette smoke is still a matter for discussion and, perhaps, some more finding.

During council discussion of the issue, Mayor Keith Holliday explained his position on the coliseum and the hockey team. He addressed what he perceived 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 deficit was attributed to being stuck for $200,000 by the group that owned the team. A still-struggling economy hasn't helped matters, either, Kitchen noted.

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

Coliseum manager Matt Brown 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 host of 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 15-18 months ahead when operating in the volatile entertainment industry.

"I wish we'd had this much notoriety last year when we came in 20 percent under budget," Brown said. "The numbers 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'd 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 whether revenues are important or 40 years of tradition are important."

After all was said and done, the council voted 9-0 to fill some of the shortfall by outsourcing the coliseum's concessions operations.

There was some good news at the meeting; however. It also involved a bit of money, $25,000, to be exact.

Marc Bush, President of the Greensboro Sports Commission, informed the council that the Irwin Belk track at North Carolina A&T was being seriously considered for the Adidas High School Track and Field Championship, which would draw 2,000 athletes and between 5,000-6,000 spectators to the Greensboro area in June, 2005. The economic impact of such an event is estimated to be between $3 million and $5 million.

Attracting such a meet would help establish the Belk track as a suitable facility for events such as the North Carolina High School championships and an NCAA regional.

"This is an opportunity to get some credibility in terms of bringing this type of event to Greensboro," Bush said.

"I foresee the day when we can have a national championship and maybe an Olympic trials," Perkins said.

But, Bush added, "This event comes with a request strong participation from local government."

With that in mind, Bush presented a plan where the city, the county, and Sports Commission in combination with Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau and the private sector would each contribute $25,000 to help support the event.

Kitchen quickly replied that the money could be found from the contingency find. The motion to do so passed by a 9-0 vote.

"It's nice to see another subject that may come in and create some economic development for us," Holliday said.

After meeting with A&T officials later in the week officials from the National Scholastic Sports Foundation were likely to make a decision over the weekend as the Observer was going to press.