The Kansas Pavilions — that complex off I-135 we used to call the Coliseum —has lost money every month this year except one. The complex had lost $650,079 through September, surpassing what Sedgwick County budgeted as a shortfall.
The county expected to cover $584,989 in operating losses this year and next year. In 2009, it covered $608,964 in operating losses.
The county hopes to reverse that trend by focusing on rebranding and marketing the complex as the Kansas Pavilions and going after new groups to use the complex, which hosts livestock, horse and dog shows and events such as flea markets and swap meets.
The complex had 36 events through Sept. 1 this year, and 45 are scheduled so far for next year.
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Assistant County Manager Ron Holt unveiled a new logo for the Pavilions on Tuesday. He told commissioners the county wants to reach a point where it no longer has to cover such losses.
"What does it take to eliminate the subsidy?" Holt asked, later emphasizing that losses can be paid out of the pot of sales tax money collected for the arena and Coliseum complex.
Commissioner Kelly Parks said if the Pavilions can more regularly book events such as the Model A swap meet he attended in February, the facility should be able to break even.
He said he met people from every direction outside Kansas during the swap meet.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he would like to see the county eliminate operating subsidies, though he doesn't think administrative costs — such as the time purchasing and finance departments spend on the complex — and building depreciation will be covered.
"I will be more pleased and happier if we can get the necessary subsidy down to the absolute minimum, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to do that," Unruh said.
That might take increasing user fees, he said.
Commissioners last year decided not to open negotiations with developers who responded to a request for proposals to develop the Coliseum complex.
The fate of the complex near 85th Street North has been uncertain since then. The county mothballed Britt Brown Arena, long home to concerts, hockey games and monster truck shows, earlier this year after Intrust Bank Arena opened. Britt Brown is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Pavilions are slated to stay open through at least 2016, although groups such as the Wichita Kennel Club and the Kansas Horse Council, which puts on the annual EquiFest horse show, have called for a longer commitment.
By separating the Pavilions from the rest of the property, the county believes it is better positioned to sell all or parts of the complex, Holt told commissioners.
This year and for the next two years, the county plans to focus on reducing operating expenses and making repairs and improvements. From 2013 to 2016, the county wants to pursue naming rights for the Pavilions and sponsorship opportunities.
Commissioners seem to generally agree that the pavilions are important to the greater area, a place for events that aren't a good fit for the downtown arena.
And organizers of events such as the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show say the money spent by people who attend their events far outweighs five-digit operating losses.
Pat Deshler, corresponding secretary for the Wichita Kennel Club, which puts on the Sunflower Cluster, said the four-day show has contributed an estimated $2.75 to $3 million to the local economy.
People showing their dogs stay in area hotels, eat at area restaurants and shop at area stores, she said.
"It's quite an economic impact," said Deshler, who has been an avid supporter of keeping the Pavilions open.
John Rolfe, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said it's common for cities and counties to subsidize convention centers and facilities such as the Pavilions.
"The economic impact certainly outweighs any loss that has been budgeted," Rolfe said.
He also noted that the owners of businesses that benefit from events at the Pavilions pay taxes, which may further offset any losses.