Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Report: Business booming at County Convention Center
But bond debt concerns are putting a crimp on booking future events BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
With sheep herders, gymnasts, quilters, disc jockeys and gamers dressed as their favorite science fiction characters, it will be an interesting few months at the Lancaster County Convention Center.
"It's boom-boom-boom," Josh Nowak, convention center marketing director, said of upcoming events.
"It's kinda fun. We go from gymnastics to wine to quilters to gymnastics again."
The first three months of the year are the busiest at the downtown center, adjacent to the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square.
There are 24 events scheduled for Freedom Hall, the center's large exhibition hall, in the first quarter, Nowak told members of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority's Operations Committee on Wednesday.
Those events, the next of which is a large home improvement show in just over a week, are expected to bring more than 45,000 people to the center.
The American Consumer Home Show is returning for the fourth time to the center. Other events, such as the convention of the Eastern Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, have not been in Lancaster for 15 years.
And Zenkaikon, a gathering of Japanese anime enthusiasts, gamers and science fiction fans, is one of five events coming to Lancaster for the first time. The convention, which promises an attendance of 2,000, has been held in Valley Forge.
Events in January -- including the MLK Kickoff Classic volleyball tournament, which brought more than 10,000 visitors to the county -- netted $100,439 for the convention center. That performance was 120 percent of budget, reported Mark Moosic, general manager of the center and hotel.
Overall, center finances look strong for 2013. With $768,422 on the books, the center is seeing improvement over last year.
Yet, Moosic warned, the picture is less rosy in following years.
A combination of the sluggish economy and fears for the center's future have made event planners reluctant to commit for future events, Nowak said.
One event, a one-day trade show that will bring between 650-700 attendees, took six months to book, he said. The deal was closed only after Convention Center Authority Executive Director Kevin Molloy penned a letter pledging that the center would still be open in June.
That reluctance stems from fears that the center authority could default on $64 million in bond debt. That debt is due to be refinanced on March 1, and the authority has been warned that interest rates could increase significantly without a guarantee of additional funding.
That funding could come in the form of an increase in the county's 3.9 percent tax on hotel rooms, yet there has been little interest from the county commissioners in raising the tax.
Talks among county officials and Wells Fargo, the bank that holds the construction debt, have been ongoing for several months.
Authority member Douglas Shand, whose great-grandfather, along with Peter Watt, started the department store where the hotel and center now stand, reminded everyone of the importance of a name.
The facility is named the Lancaster County Convention Center, he said.
"If the Lancaster County Convention Center fails, then Lancaster County fails," Shand said.