The Ottumwa Courier

January 1, 2013

Building universal appeal at Bridge View Center

Payment of bonds to end in 2014; director hopes to attract A-list entertainment

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Bridge View Center will celebrate its sixth birthday this year, and the city is within a year of paying off the original $11 million in bonds.

With a year under his belt as the center’s executive director, Larry Gawronski said he wants to maintain the center’s good working relationship with the city and continue to attract bigger and better events.

This is in line with the Ottumwa City Council’s decision to set benchmarks for VenuWorks (Bridge View’s management company), which, if met, will entitle them to monetary incentives.

A performance review committee will examine operational revenues, attendance and city satisfaction to determine the incentive, which cannot exceed $80,000 annually, according to IRS regulations. Each category holds a different weight: operational revenues at 50 percent, attendance at 35 percent and city satisfaction at 15 percent.

Councilman Jeremy Weller previously said in order for VenuWorks to receive incentives, they must reach these goals, which will not remain static year to year. If a benchmark was met during this first year of management, it will increase next year.

“It gives them motivation to provide good service,” Weller said.

Gawronski said the six shows in the South Ottumwa Savings Bank Bridge View Theater Series, which is halfway through its season, has proven successful so far.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without [sponsors] to keep tickets moderately priced,” he said. “And I have a lot of gratitude to the public who has bought tickets to the series or individual shows. Without them, it doesn’t matter what kind of sponsorship you have, it’s who goes to them.”

In fiscal year 2014, Gawronski hopes to strengthen the theater series with stronger sponsor participation, which will then give him the ability to go out and attract stronger shows.

“We’ve built universal appeal with the Beatles  [Liverpool Legends], with comedy,” he said. “We want to continue that trend and continue to get A-list groups.”

Part of that is keeping a close eye on the market.

“I want to stay watchful of current acts that are touring,” he said. “When I first took the job ... it was right after that that the Oak Ridge Boys were named.

“It’s almost like watching the stock market. I do that daily to see who’s out, what’s out, what’s available. Then we match up to get them before someone else does.”

He said keeping a watchful eye is how he snagged Florida Georgia Line to perform last September. As the band was finishing up its club tours and preparing for national arena and stadium tours, Gawronski was able to book the group as they neared the end of their “small, intimate gigs.”

In a previous interview with the Courier, city finance director Bob Jay said the center’s $11 million in bonds will be paid off in 2014.

When the city’s 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax was renewed in 2004, part of the revenues were reallocated to pay for the Bridge View Center bonds.

“By the time everything is over with, we’ll have spent about $13.5 million on the Bridge View debt service,” Jay previously told the Courier.

In fiscal year 2011, Bridge View brought in around $730,000 in total revenue. VenuWorks founder and president Steven Peters previously told the council he hoped to bring in $1 million in the center’s first year under their management.

Gawronski also wants to expand upon conventions, banquets, weddings and sports marketing by collaborating with the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We’re going to make a concerted effort to try to land that business because it’s a great economic impact for Ottumwa and Wapello County,” he said.

In the last year, Gawronski said Bridge View has become known for being more universal in its family and spectator events, including the Bull Riders of America finals, Winter Nationals Monster Trucks spectacular, Kaaba Shrine Circus and more, all of which are returning this year.

“Anything else I find out there that’s touring that makes sense for little kids or universal family entertainment, I’ll try to snag it for us,” he said.

When Gawronski presented his fiscal year 2012 report to the City Council, the center had already seen more than 62,000 attendees between November 2011 and June 2012.

“This is the first time we’ll have a full fiscal year to record and track,” he said. “We’ll be able to give comparisons of where we were last year.”

While he said the city is pleased with the center’s progress, “we don’t live on last year’s report card.”

“You continue to try to build on the success you have,” he said. “We’re heading into a strong period. January, February and March were three of the strongest months last year. We’ll capitalize on that again this year.”