The Event Center has room to accommodate big groups and won't compete for small events.
The Fairgrounds Event Center is not out to compete with local businesses, and county commissioners on Wednesday set some ground rules to make sure it won't.
The point of the Event Center was to provide facilities to host big get-togethers like conventions and meetings. It would help stoke the county's economic engine by drawing groups from out-of-town to the county, where visitors could boost the lodging and restaurant industries. Motel and restaurant workers in turn would shop locally and support other businesses.
But the question facing county commissioners Wednesday was, when does drawing crowds to the center help the lodging and dining businesses, and when does it hurt?
The center's promotional staff has succeeded over the past months in booking events, according to county economic development director DeLynn Fielding. Now, however, that success looks more like a threat than an opportunity for the motel operators who have meeting and convention facilities of their own. In his briefing to commissioners, Fielding said he could see the point.
The Holiday Inn, Greenwell, Elks and Country Club paid a total of $95,000 in property tax last year, he noted. That is equivalent to more than four-fifths of his operating budget. These businesses depend in part on hosting events that could be drawn away by the non-taxpaying center.
In addition to the tax revenue from private industry, he added, "The critical aspect of the BEAR [Business Expansion and Retention] program is our relationship with our partners," he stated. This public-private cooperation is essential in fostering growth in the local economy and direct government competition could impair that cooperation.
Fielding told the commission he would like to see the event promotion staff get clear instructions on how to steer corporate and agency convention planners to private facilities while keeping the center viable on its own.
He got the answer when the commission voted to set the threshold for Event Center hosting at 100 attendees, unless the needs of the specific event demand otherwise. That means other hosts would get priority when promoting sites for groups of fewer than 100 people.
There was more to the successful motion by Commissioner John Jones than that, though. "Accommodation is everything," he stated, explaining that there are some conventions smaller than 100 that simply cannot be handled other than by the Event Center. For example, some events will need space to display or demonstrate heavy equipment or vehicles. The four businesses mentioned cannot accommodate that. There should be no need to lose an event for this reason, Jones said.
He also stressed that the county would have to honor its commitment to those events already booked, even though some are smaller than the l00 dividing line.
Commissioner Bill Krompel explained that he did not see event promotion as competition between public and private entities. "I don't care where it's held,' he said of any event, "as long as it's held in Carbon County." Krompel also noted that the Event Center has no catering facilities of its own, so any event there is going to drum up business for one caterer or another.
The Community Impact Board, which put up a good part of the center's construction money in grants and loans, could be an exception to the "rule of 100" when it brings its members and staff to town.