Convention Center sees drop in revenue

The Blair County Convention Center has initiated new marketing tactics to counter a drop or anticipated drop in revenue linked to business-related changes.

“We’re not panicked,” Convention Center CEO Barry Kumpf told the Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority, which supervises management of the center, saying,. “But don’t you think it’s better to be proactive?”

Authority members offered no protest as Kumpf spoke of recent marketing efforts, including billboard and social media advertisements.

In the first four months of 2018, the convention center’s revenue declined about $75,000 in comparison to the same time in 2017. The major part of that difference, financial reports show, reflect fewer convention center room rentals and less food and beverage sales.

One of this year’s missing events is Mid-State Tool & Supply’s annual trade show.

“They’ve been here since Day 1,” authority Chairman Richard Karcher said.

Mid-State Tool was the first business to use the convention center on May 4 and 5, 2001, the day after the center hosted an opening night dinner. And until this year, Mid-State Tool remained a loyal patron.

“The industry we’re in has changed dramatically,” Mid-State Tool Executive Vice President Robert Halbritter said. “Our customer market has diversified, and some of our largest customers now come through the internet. So instead of holding a trade show, we developed a virtual tool showcase.”

In prior years, Mid-State Tool served a lot of regional customers willing to travel to Altoona for a trade show where they could see the tools and meet the people selling them. But as companies consolidated and shifted responsibilities, the personnel authorized to make those purchases became further away.

“Bringing people to a tool show in Altoona was becoming more and more difficult,” Halbritter said. “And sadly, we did have to move out of the convention center.”

Meanwhile, Wolf Furni­ture’s recent ownership change is expected to mean less business for the convention center. The new owners seem interested in using the center, Kumpf told the authority, but on a less frequent basis. The furniture store chain has already canceled a scheduled event at the convention center, which was included in the center’s 2108’s projected revenue.

Despite those losses, Kumpf said he sees this year’s finances beginning to mirror the 2016 fiscal year when the facility took in revenue just under $2 million. In 2017, the latest audit shows the convention center took in its highest operating revenue at $2.18 million.

Authority member Donna Gority asked Kumpf if the billboard advertising is part of the marketing effort to offset lost revenue, and Kumpf said yes. One of the billboards describes the convention center as elegant and formal, the kind of event that Kumpf said it seeks to attract.

“If someone is going to spend $50,000 on a wedding reception, we want them to do it here,” he said. “We’re not looking to compete with fire hall events where everybody brings a dish.”

Another tactic involves the use of social media to advertise the availability of meeting space, between June 1 and Aug. 31, for full day and half day meetings.

That’s aimed at groups of about 50 to 200 people within a 100-mile radius who need a place to meet, Kumpf said. And depending on amounts paid for meals and services, the room rental fee could be waived, he added.

As for long-range plans, Karcher said that three developers responded to the latest effort to draw interest in building an on-site hotel offering 120 to 150 rooms, something the authority has long advocated as a way to attract more out-of-town businesses.

They showed a preference, Karcher said, for use of front parking lot parcel previously thought to be too small. Another on-site location for a hotel is to the rear of the parking garage, where depending on height, a hotel might have greater visibility from a distance.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” Karcher said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.