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Alerus OKs 2010 budget

The Grand Forks Alerus Center Commission approved a $4.6 million operational budget for the city-owned events center Wednesday. The budget projects the center would break even by the end of 2010, with temporary deficits incurred in the slow summe...

The Grand Forks Alerus Center Commission approved a $4.6 million operational budget for the city-owned events center Wednesday.

The budget projects the center would break even by the end of 2010, with temporary deficits incurred in the slow summer months.

The Alerus Center also projected it would break even by the end of 2009, though so far, it's been losing more money than expected. The events center is down $205,900 as of the end of May, though its budget anticipated it'd be up $99,700 by that time.

Losses could worsen this summer, though, if the Britney Spears concert does well in September. That could give the building good boost.

Finance Director Wendy Nimens, though, said break even still is doable in 2009 as it would be in the 2010 budget. There are contingency plans in place to cut costs, she said.

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"What's out there is always unknown," Executive Director Steve Hyman said.

"One thing we can control is expenditures."

The $4.6 million budget in 2010 is predicated on the Alerus Center getting one major concert -- meaning attendance of more than 8,000 -- three mid-sized concerts and four small concerts and 15 conventions.

The budget also called for growth in the catering business, which has been a bright spot for the events center's financials for several years, and more advertising and sponsorships, driven by more events than in past years.

VenuWorks, the Ames, Iowa, facility management firm that employs Hyman and other Alerus Center staff, also has looked at the budget and tested it against past performance and economic projections, according to company President Steve Peters.

Also discussed Wednesday at the commission meeting:

Kick start

The city's planning department should review the zoning and land use plan for the 42nd Street corridor around the Alerus Center, commissioners agreed.

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This would lay the groundwork for Hyman to lead discussions with landowners to accelerate commercial and residential developments.

A little discussed aspect of the events center is that it's a catalyst for new developments on the corridor, which had largely been bypassed with new commercial development focused on the south end. So far, there are two new hotels on the corridor and another one going up across the street from the Alerus Center.

More developments would broaden the city's commercial tax base, easing the burden on homeowners.

Finance report

Should the Alerus Center release year-end financial data in January before a preliminary audit is done in March?

Many years ago, it was standard practice to release the December financial report in January, which gives a rough indicator of how much money the events center lost or earned the year before.

In recent years, commissioners have said they want to wait until March because numbers released in January will have to be adjusted after the preliminary audit anyway.

Commissioner Randy Newman pressed the commission to just release the data in January because the adjustments are usually not huge. He said he's not comfortable refusing to release the data.

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The Herald has made a point of pushing for a January release in the past because the information is public and because of conflicting statements by some officials who claimed that the Alerus Center never released the data early.

Commissioner David Evenson, while not opposed to a January release, said he feared that an adjustment, though minor, might mean the difference between the Alerus Center earning a small profit or losing money, which would confuse the public.

Commissioners did not reach a decision on the matter Wednesday.

Endowment

Commissioners urged the City Council to find a way to tap the three-quarter-percent sales tax and build an endowment for the Alerus Center. The endowment would help pay for building improvements after the tax expires, which would be some time between 2015 and 2029.

The tax now is dedicated to debt repayment and building improvements but cannot be used for anything else because of restrictions in the city charter that no one foresaw.

A public vote is needed to amend the charter and some council members have talked about it informally, though there's been no serious discussion.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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