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Enumclaw Expo Center's financial picture not as rosy as believed

The financial picture at the Enumclaw Expo Center may not be as rosy as everyone thought.
That was the word delivered to members of the City Council during a special workshop Feb. 22 in City Hall council chambers. Explaining the past finances, current operations and future goals was Kristen Damazio, day-to-day manager of the facility, who has been on the job a little less than a year.

“I don’t think it was quite as transparent as it could have been in the past,” Damazio said, referring to the Expo Center’s overall financial health. “We’re learning from the past and focusing on the future.”

The business model now being used, she said, calls for no more than 30 cents in expenditures for every dollar of revenue.

“We’re significantly reducing expenses across the board,” Damazio told the council, whiled also pursuing opportunities to make greater profits.

“I’m talking to every kind of group you can possibly imagine,” she said, looking to persuade people to pull events from other venues and move them to the Expo Center.

Part of the belt-tightening process has impacted local groups. In the past, some events were given a sweet deal, she said, paying only enough to cover the city’s costs. Those days are gone, Damazio said, noting that nonprofit groups still receive a discount, but the discount isn’t as great as it once was.

The Expo Center experienced a net loss of more than $222,000 during 2010, Damazio said. By slicing into expenses and bumping revenues, the financial drain is expected to be reduced to about $127,000 this year, she added. And, while she has officially said the center should be self-sufficient by 2014, Damazio told council she hopes to have the facility operating at a break-even point by 2012.

Part of the future operation will depend upon known tenants. Damazio said she’s working with Creation Fest on a 10-year contract and both the Olympic Kennel Club and the Scottish Highland Games are on board through 2013.

Creation came to Enumclaw for the first time in 2010 – after many years at the Gorge Amphitheatre in central Washington - and organizers were apparently pleased with the result.
Damazio also noted she’s in serious talks with someone who would like to operate a year-round motocross facility on the Expo Center grounds.

“I want us to be an all-inclusive facility where anybody who wants to put on an event knows we can handle that event,” she told the council.

While council members appeared to like the notion of the Expo Center breaking even soon, not all were pleased with the overall picture. Councilman Sean Krebs, in particular, wasn’t happy with the way things have gone in recent years.

“It seems like we’re a little haphazard in what planning is going on,” he said, adding that the council has perhaps been lax in setting policy regarding the Expo Center.

When Mayor Liz Reynolds objected to the “haphazard” claim, Krebs pointed to a $96,000 expenditure that was generally explained as facility upkeep but couldn’t be fully documented.
 “We can’t really say the city of Enumclaw has done a great job of running the Expo Center,” Krebs countered. “You certainly can’t look back…and say this has been a shining success.”

Earlier, Councilman Rich Elfers had questioned some 2009 numbers, stating his belief that the year was profitable due to a $311,000 contribution from King County to help with the fair.
“There was an understanding by council and others that the fair made money and things went well,” Damazio said. “The fair might have made money but the rest of the year was a loss.”
Toward the end of her presentation, Damazio said one of her primary goals is to keep a close watch on dollars and cents.

“I don’t want us to continue to have this ‘rose-colored glasses’ picture of what’s going on out there like, unfortunately, has happened in the past,” she said.

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