Civic Pride: Convention Hall's Deficit Is Shrinking

Posted: August 19, 1987

While Philadelphia's proposed Center City convention center sinks deeper into a morass of political finagling, Philadelphia's "other" convention hall is showing signs of improvement each month.

The city-funded Civic Center's customary annual deficit shrunk to $764,000 during the fiscal year ended June 30, the facility's first full year under professional management. The deficit in the previous fiscal year topped $1.4 million.

Executives of Spectacor, the management company picked last year to operate the Civic Center and the Port of History Museum, say the deficit dwindled

because revenue at the convention hall shot up at an unprecendented pace.

"We had a record revenue increase this year, and that's basically due to a remarkable increase in the revenue we received from food and beverage concessions," said Matthew G. Brown, a Spectacor executive who serves as general manager of the Civic Center.

Brown said Spectacor has sought to bolster yearly revenue by contracting the concession business out to food service firms, and by selling novelty items at special events such as trade shows and wrestling matches.

Management also has worked with employees to use labor more efficiently, he said, a move that generated additional revenue from labor fees charged to trade show operators.

The plan has worked well so far - revenue increased by $934,576 last year to $3.2 million. At the same time, expenses edged up by only 2 percent, Brown said, which enabled Spectacor to trim the combined deficit at the Civic Center and Port of History Museum by some $700,000.

Brown said he hopes to generate even more revenue next year by selling advertising inside the Civic Center and by luring new attractions to the West Philadelphia convention and meeting complex. He said he hopes to attract Big Five basketball and musical entertainment acts that currently do not have access to more prestigious venues such as the Spectrum or the Academy of Music.

"We think there is a market out there for black entertainment that is underserved, and has not been solicited before. We think that's true of country western music as well," he said.

Will the Civic Center ever break even? Brown said it won't happen during the current fiscal year, but said the Civic Center could have black ink in the ledger next year. Spectacor's biggest challenge in this regard is the Port of History Museum. The city lumps the two facilities together for bookkeeping purposes.

The Port of History Museum accounted for $500,000 of last year's deficit. The museum generates little money, Brown said, in part because few people know exactly what it is.

"Quite frankly, part of the problem is the name. It's not a port museum, and it's not a history museum," he said. "It's in an excellent location, but people don't really know what it's there for."

Brown hopes the problem will solve itself. The city is considering the idea of leasing the property to Rouse & Associates as part of that firm's proposed Penn's Landing development.

"If the museum were not in the picture, then it would be interesting to see the kinds of numbers we could put together here at the Civic Center," he said.

|
|
|
|
|