Carnival Center late on county debt payment
By Wayne Tompkins
The Carnival Center for the Performing Arts missed a $1.5 million payment for construction-related debt that was due Oct. 1, County Manager George Burgess reported last week.
"It has come to my attention that funding will likely not be available from Carnival Center to make this payment to the county on time," Mr. Burgess wrote.
At Friday's county commission Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting, Carnival Center chief executive Michael Hardy said the center was working with Mr. Burgess on a payment plan.
"If our cash flow holds up as projected, it will be in the April/May area before we will be able to make that payment," Mr. Hardy said. About $7.8 million of the Carnival Center's $24.3 million in revenues in the year ended Sept. 30 came from the county, including $4.1 million in mid-year emergency funding to cover an embarrassing series of cost overruns in its operations budget.
Mr. Burgess, who has asked the Carnival Center for a detailed payment plan by Oct. 15, disclosed the missed payment in the first of monthly status reports that commissioners required from the center in exchange for the $4.1 million bailout.
The missed payment is the latest financial setback for the center, which this month announced that lower-than-expected ticket sales created a nearly $2.5 million shortfall in fiscal 2006-07.
On the positive side, negotiated contracts on natural gas, janitorial and maintenance and landscaping let the center spend $99,000 less than projected on operating costs — after the county's emergency funding is factored in.
At the end of the fiscal year, those costs were projected to close at $7.755 million, down from the allocated $7.854 million. The savings are expected to continue into 2007-08 as the center continues to negotiate costs with contractors and utilities. The center also projects that revenues and expenses will equalize next year at just over $26.6 million.
The operations budget spawned controversy in the spring when the county had to dig up $4.1 million to cover cost overruns that more than doubled original projections. The funding kept the $472 million center open.
In his report to the county manager, Mr. Hardy said a $2.478 million shortfall resulted primarily from a $1.43 million, or 18%, shortfall in planned ticket sales. The deficit was not tied to the county-funded occupancy cost overrun.
"Ticket sales projections for performances presented by Carnival Center were budgeted at 65% sold; however, actual ticket sales through August were at 43%," he said. "These lower ticket sales resulted in an 18% to 20% decrease in the related areas of box office fees, parking revenue, concessions revenue and merchandise sales."
As a result, he said, the center missed projected revenues by 17%, or $3.447 million. In response, the center trimmed its revenues by almost $1 million, resulting in the current projection of $2.478 million.
He said that the Performing Arts Center Foundation this year will contribute $3.5 million of privately raised funds toward operations, up 30%.