Council approves new operating model for Mayo Civic Center, Experience Rochester
The Rochester City Council took a big step forward Monday afternoon in deciding the next steps for merging the operations of the Mayo Civic Center with the city’s tourism agency.
The council voted 6-0 to approve a recommendation from city administration to create a private, nonprofit entity that will operate the civic center and Experience Rochester, the name of the city’s convention and visitors bureau. Councilor Ed Hruska, who also serves as head of Rochester Sports, which shares offices with the CVB, abstained from the vote.
On the council’s agenda for Monday was a request to decide whether to make the new singular entity a private nonprofit or a city-run department. City Administrator Steve Rymer told the council that both options would achieve greater transparency and help streamline some of the activities now performed by the two organizations. The difference, he said, is the private model could reduce the city’s risk while allowing the entity to be more nimble.
The transition is expected to begin in January with full implementation completed by the end of 2019. Though the new organization will be private, it will be subject to open-meeting laws. The council will also be responsible for appointing members to a new board governing the entity.
Monday’s vote follows a months-long assessment from the city that concluded that the current model is no longer sustainable. Bookings for the civic center, which two years go completed an $84 million renovation and expansion, have fallen flat and the venue faces a looming shortfall.
With the creation of a new entity, city officials hope to create better coordination between the civic center and the city’s tourism efforts. The new entity will have a singular set of metrics and goals.
The city currently collects a 7 percent lodging tax on top of the city’s sales tax. Of every dollar spent on lodging, one cent goes toward promoting tourism and two cents go toward the civic center. In 2019, it is estimated that the city will invest about $5 million of its hotel tax revenue to support the civic center, Experience Rochester and Rochester Sports.
The goal of the new organization will be to reduce the city’s annual investment into those operations by requiring the new entity to partner with existing service providers — while also finding new sources of revenue.
Council Member Mark Hickey noted that the plan will require a balancing act. While the bottom line is important, he said, it is also critical that the civic center remains responsive to the needs of the community. “How do we balance keeping the ‘civic’ in the Mayo Civic Center?” he asked.
The council will continue to receive updates as the process moves forward. One issue in particular — whether to merge Rochester Sports with the new entity — will likely not be decided by the council until later in 2019.
As for the employees of Mayo Civic Center and Experience Rochester, the goal is for them to remain employed with the new entity or elsewhere in city government. Rymer has already begun having talks with other departments where staff may be a good fit. “Because we are a large organization,” he said, “we do feel confident that we will be able to work through this.”
Cover photo by Med City Beat