Big tent draws more than attention to venue

Convention center finds a way to keep operating

The Blair County Convention Center set up a large tent in its parking lot that is able to accommodate large groups in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Convention Center has found a way to bring in some revenue during the coronavirus pandemic that has restricted the size of indoor gatherings.

Since renting a large outdoor tent in August — set up in front of the main entrance — the convention center has hosted four outdoor wedding receptions and a four-day meeting of the state dairy princess organization.

On Sept. 26, the tent will be the site of a football tailgate party, where patrons will have access to food, drinks, music and live TV.

On Oct. 10, the Home Nursing Agency booked the big white tent for its annual fundraising dinner-dance to benefit the Healing Patch Children’s Grief Program. The agency is selling 200 tickets and advising patrons that the event is outdoors.

“People are looking for options, and with the tent, we’ve been able to come through for them,” Tara Saltzburg, director of sales and marketing, told the Blair County Convention Centers and Sports Facilities Authority, which met Wednesday.

Because Pennsylvania’s current COVID-19 restrictions limit the size of most indoor gatherings to 25, the convention center’s typical meeting and event business has dwindled. The facility is hosting a RugRats sale of children’s clothing this weekend, but advertising 42 as the capacity for the sales floor, as determined through a closer look at the state’s restrictions.

Meanwhile, that state is OK with outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people.

One of the couples who used the convention center’s tent for their wedding reception had to find an alternate location fast, Saltzburg said.

The indoor venue they booked for their reception told them shortly before their wedding date that their reception couldn’t be accommodated, she said.

In addition to setting up their wedding reception dinner in the tent, the convention center staged a dance area under the canopy outside the main entrance doors.

“We’ve had some really happy brides under that tent and canopy,” Saltzburg said.

Convention Center Executive Director Rocco Alianiello said the tent is leased through the Oct. 10 event. If more bookings are realized, then the lease could be extended, he said, and if needed, heat can be provided.

The idea of renting the tent developed, he said, while trying to figure out a way to accommodate three wedding receptions that were already booked, each anticipating more than 150 guests.

“We retained them,” Alianiello said.

Authority Chairman Richard Karcher acknowledged that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused tough times for many businesses, including the convention center.

“We will get through this,” he assured the authority members.

The convention is currently incurring about $87,000 a month in expenses, Alianiello said, being offset by minimal revenue and the center’s share of the county bed tax.

Based on current projections, Alianiello said the center could end the year with a $540,000 loss that will be covered by reserve funds.

“It isn’t positive, but we are containing expenses where we can,” he said.

As for the facility’s future, Alianiello expressed no doubt.

“I’m very confident that we’ll get the events and revenue back in here,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.


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