Cannon: Just another rider on Civic Center merry-go-round

The City of Monroe his hired yet another director for the Monroe Civic Center, but success at the Civic Center will only succeed when it is separated from the politics of city hall.

This week Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo announced the hiring of Dr. George Cannon as the latest in the merry-go-round of center directors.

Cannon, as director, will take over a complex that has had a bleeding revenue for over 40 years.

At present, the Civic Center loses approximately $500,000 a year. At the end of each year the city has to transfer funds into the Civic Center accounts to make the books balance. It had 350 shows last year, with politics determining rates. Some groups rented the civic center for $35 while others paid hundreds. One film company used the arena for a week for free while others paid.

What’s the problem?

The original philosophy promoted by the Howard Administration in the 1960’s was to use the Civic Center to attract tourists to the city for concerts, conventions and festivals. It was not expected to generate a profit for the city but was considered a magnet that would fill hotels, and retail outlets.

The city under Howard did not measure the Civic Center’s impact by whether it produced a net profit, but it measured the increased sales taxes it received from businesses impacted by Civic Center attractions. When measured that way, the center always lost money directly but produced increased sales taxes after each show.

In the early 1980’s the city’s form of government changed to a five-member council and strong mayor/weak council form of government. With it also came a change in philosophy about Civic Center expectation. The council began to complain that the Civic Center was a drain on the city’s budget and expectations changed.

In the interim, the city experimented with a variety of methods. It hired a management company LMI (Leisure Management International). In theory, the private company was supposed to have free reign to operate the Civic Center complex and pay the city a fee each year.

In real life, however, the city dictated the use of the complex. City hall, under the late Bob Powell allowed free use of the facilities for certain groups while others paid. LMI was unable to operate in the black under those conditions.

The Pierce Administration used Howard’s original philosophy of not expecting a profit, using the center for a draw. He even allowed local groups to use the complex at extremely reduced prices if the buildings would have ordinarily been idle. That idea fizzled when the complex failed to attract major shows as it did in the 60’s.

In the last days of the Pierce Administration, super promoter Greg Gregory was hired to direct the center. Gregory, who was well connected with promotional groups, bands, and show groups across the country hit the ground running, but ran into the political interference from city hall.

In the Mayo Administration, which is most of the 21st century, the Civic Center continues to be dead weight. The city sponsored its own concerts, called Delta Fests, which generally lost money and the city failed to attract big shows. The hotels and retail establishments didn’t make money and the civic center lost money.

Mayo began a virtual musical chair of directors who mostly clashed with city hall. He hired and fired a string of directors, usually over personality clashes resulting in nearly 18 years of red ink at the center.

The various experiments, directors and management ideas at the Civic Center all have common factors which give clues to its success:
–The city should decide whether the complex is expected to impact local retail sales and hotel occupancy or break a profit.

–If it is expected to show a profit, then the management of the city should be outsourced to a private firm that pays the city a fee annually, with no city interference, freebies or mandates.

No matter what the city decides city hall must stay out of the Civic Center management business.

Here’s what happens: City hall will use the center for political advantage. Some groups will use the center for free while others pay, running up the bill. If the manager of the Civic Center makes a decision, it may be overridden by city hall for political reasons.

That’s what happened with the last director. His management decisions were overridden because they did not jive with the mayor’s politics, but they were good business practices. The mayor made the last director Charles Thomas look incompetent at least and disloyal at most.

And now there is George Cannon, the latest director on the merry-go-round. He has no promotion experience and knows absolutely nothing about the Civic Center in Monroe or in any city in America.

He is tasked with turning things around and making a profit.

Good Luck, Dr. Cannon.

Welcome to the Mayo Merry-Go-Round!