Great Bend City Council member Dale Westhoff recently approached Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cris Collier in regards to the Convention Center now owned by the city. Collier said Westhoff asked some very pointed questions and was shocked by the answers.
Collier addressed the council this past Monday night as part of a long discussion on the center and the adjacent Highland Hotel. Her comments were equally enlightening for the entire governing body.
Under the current arrangement, the Highland’s new owners are managing the center on behalf of the city. But, there have been numerous complaints to city officials and council members regarding the center’s condition and cleanlieness.
According to Collier, convention business accounts for about 23 percent of the total center business, with community events (weddings, dances, etc.) making up 77 percent. Last year, she said, the guest tax brought $213,000 into Great Bend. Of that, $21-32,000 was from conventions.
Since the CVB markets all facilities in the city, she said she must remain neutral and can’t focus solely on the center. However, even if she was free to aggressively market the facility, it is in such poor shape that it could be an embarrassment to the community.
Adding to this, the advent of the Internet and the stretched budgets of several statewide organizations, there are not as many conventions as there once were.
This caused Westoff to question what could be a $1 million remodeling and if it was worth the it. He and others on the council don’t want to have to raise the mill levy to pay for the center.
A committee was formed to study the profitability and maintenance of the center.
Kudos to the council for taking the time to listen to what Collier had to say. It surely opened a few eyes.
However, one has to wonder why this information wasn’t sought earlier. There is a lot of data to be collected in a short time as the council would like to see a new management plan in place by year’s end just before it is shut down during what is likely a six-month face lift.
The Convention Center is an important piece in the economic development puzzle for Great Bend. And, since it was purchased with donated funds, the city was wise in snagging it off the market.
Let’s hope the city is equally wise when in devising a plan to make it the showcase it can be.