This is a tale of two arenas. One is doing well while the other struggles.
The difference illustrates the challenge of succeeding in the arena business.
This year, the Covelli Centre in Youngstown generated enough profit from operations and admission tax to more than cover debt service — the first time in the center’s roughly seven-year history that it wasn’t a financial drain.
Youngstown’s Deputy Finance Director Kyle Miasek credited the admission tax in helping to close the financing gap. Additionally, the city was able to obtain a much lower interest rate on the arena debt.
Also, he praised the building’s operator, J.A.C. Management, which the city hired in 2009 to replace another manager.
J.A.C. President Eric Ryan has worked hard to show that Youngstown is a viable market for performers seeking a smaller venue, Miasek said.
“He has proven in the industry that this is a market you want to come to, and this is a market that supports the arena. ... When that happens, you build that confidence in the [entertainment] industry,” Miasek said.
The city-owned arena was built in 2005 for about $42 million with a $26.8 million federal grant secured by former U.S. Rep. James Traficant.
It wasn’t long before the facility was losing money and the city forced the prior management company to secure a letter of credit showing it could cover the losses.
The arena can seat 6,000 for basketball games and up to 7,200 for concerts.
Arena operations got a boost this year with a more lucrative contract with Covelli Enterprises, a Panera Bread franchise, for naming rights, Ryan said. Also, J.A.C. took over food and beverage services and started “Taste of Youngstown” food offerings, and increased sales of suites and signs.
The turnaround is significant, given that “most of these arenas don’t make money operationally,” Ryan said. “We’re extremely proud of how far we’ve come.”
While the Covelli Centre is succeeding, Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center is not.
The Wolstein Center, owned by Cleveland State University, was completed in 1991 at a cost of about $55 million. It has 8,400 seats for basketball and 14,337 for concerts and other events.
The Wolstein Center has been hurt by the larger Quicken Loans Arena, which opened in 1994.
In recent years, the center has been a drain of about $1 million annually on the university.
Before he left his post as a Cleveland State University spokesman last week, Joe Mosbrook said that the deficit “is not necessarily a terrible thing” because the university uses the facility for its basketball programs, graduations and other special events. He said the goal is to find a way to break even.
Mosbrook said the arena is hurt by its in-between size. It’s not big enough for Fleetwood Mac, which performed at nearby Quicken Loans Arena, but it’s not small enough for acts looking for a scaled-down venue.
The Wolstein Center made headlines this fall when a CSU trustee suggested at a board meeting that the university tear down the arena and build a new facility. Mosbrook called that “an offhand remark,” and said it’s not being considered.
The university is studying other venues “to see how they work” and “to determine if there are different ways to market the facility,” Mosbrook said.