03/04/10 — Duplin Events Center will lose manager

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Duplin Events Center will lose manager

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 4, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Events Center management company VenuWorks will serve out the remaining time on its existing contract with the county but will not seek to renew the deal.

"We have withdrawn from the Request For Proposals process that (the county commissioners) started way back last year, and have to this day still not followed through with, and our contract is up at the end of the fiscal year," VenuWorks Senior Vice President Douglas Kuhnel said.

County Manager Mike Aldridge learned of the decision last week when he spoke with VenuWorks representatives.

"The contract negotiations have been going on for some time, and that's been a continuing battle that they've been fighting, and it's put them in a bad light, I think, from a corporate standpoint, with the other buildings that they're dealing with. Every time something comes out on the Internet, everybody knows about it, and there's questions as to how that's impacted them elsewhere," Aldridge said.

The decision not to be a part of the RFP process was "kind of a business decision," Kuhnel said.

"There's a number of things that have taken place that prevent us from feeling that the commission is behind, or that there are members of the commission that aren't. They have to be behind the operation. They have to realize that it is what it is, and we've made great strides to get it up there," he said.

The center was becoming a place where the county could offer citizens in the area "some substantial shows," but the unexpected cancellation of the Willie Nelson concert in January when Alcohol Law Enforcement agents charged members of Nelson's band for drug and liquor violations caused a setback.

"With what happened at the Willie Nelson show, it just set us back ... it takes a long time to overcome that, and I don't think, again, that there are some commissioners that recognize that fact. It just becomes a difficult situation," Kuhnel said.

There was financial fallout from the concert to consider.

"It has an effect on, you know, you do cash flow projections and budgeting, and when a show gets canceled like that, there is a revenue issue, because you project that you're going to make 'X amount' of dollars," Kuhnel said.

Additionally, the company would likely face resistance in attempting to get new acts to perform at the center, Kuhnel said.

"When these things happen at a building, it has a really negative effect, not only on your ability to get a promoter to come back in but to get the acts to come back in," he said.

Specifically, the public relations ramifications are also something that the company and the county must consider.

"There's just a public relations issue," Kuhnel said.

The commissioners have not elected to extend the county's contract with VenuWorks, and the company must make commitments, he said.

"They don't seem to want to recognize the difficulty of getting some of these things done for the buildings, and at that point we just made the decision that we're going to finish out the year," Kuhnel said.

At the end of the contract period, VenuWorks will transition management of the center over to whatever entity the commissioners decide.

Aldridge also commented on the after-effects of the canceled concert, and a later incident involving alleged gang activity outside the center. A financial audit, discussed at the commission meeting Monday, also raised concerns, he said.

"And beyond that, the Willie Nelson show that didn't happen, that was one black eye, and then this latest thing with the Hispanic gang melee out there was the last one, and that's actually, I think that's on top of the audit that we've done and figured out that we were not as financially as well-off as we thought we were," Aldridge said.

At the county commission meeting Monday, Duplin County Event Center Director John Vogt appeared before commissioners during a discussion of a county-conducted financial audit of the center. The audit revealed some coding errors in how money was handled between the box office account and operational account.

The board provided an advance on money budgeted for the events center to cover expenses. The board voted 4-1 in favor of appropriating $30,000 of the money already budgeted to the center to keep the center's bills paid through the end of March.

In an effort to cut costs, two employees were laid off and staff are not running the center's systems unless it is for an event, Vogt said.

"We are doing everything physically possible to reduce our expenses," he said.