For one of only a few times in its 66-year history, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum will likely end 2018 in the red.
The venue's operating budget is expected to run about a $200,000 deficit, Randy Brown, executive vice president and general manager, confirmed Thursday in an interview with The Journal Gazette.
During the December meeting of the facility's board of trustees, Brown alluded to the possible deficit – attributing it to higher utility costs and dips in attendance and use days for the facility.
The dips came despite a $2 increase in parking fees and a 14,000 boost in attendance from a visit in November by President Donald Trump, he said.
Although final tallies for the year aren't in, Brown said the facility was not in financial trouble because it has a reserve fund. The venue also is showing strong bookings for 2019, he said.
With the 2018 operating budget at $7.14 million, the deficit amounts to about 2.7 percent. A 2019 budget of $7.46 million has been approved by the Allen County Council.
Brown said he knew of perhaps three other years when the Coliseum ran a deficit. In recent years, it has had a narrow profit margin – last year, it showed $61,426 in net income, up from about $40,000 in 2016.
The Coliseum hosts Komets hockey and Mad Ants and some Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball games, as well as concerts, conferences, trade shows and corporate and private parties, including weddings.
Brown said November's attendance, at 84,843, was the best November tally for the facility, up more than 31 percent from November 2017.
But at the beginning of December, year-to-date attendance stood at 989,766, down 40,252 or 3.9 percent.
Year-to-date use days fell by 123 in that period, to 1,266, a 7.74 percent decrease.
The squeeze came from natural gas increases of 18.4 percent and electrical cost increases of 17.4 percent, despite the Coliseum's cutting electrical use through efficiency measures, Brown said.
Water costs increased 11.2 percent. Coliseum payroll and benefits went up 1.9 percent, while third-party payroll went up 3.1 percent. Maintenance costs went down 20.5 percent.
Rental income was off by 7.2 percent, parking income by 2 percent and concession income 2.5 percent, Brown said.
He said he regrets waiting “about a year too long” to increase parking fees and added the parking increase was not to pay for a new security fence. That money comes from a capital account that cannot be used for operating expenses, Brown said. More security is being demanded in the contracts of athletic events and concerts, he said.
Brown said the lower attendance and use figures also translated to an approximate $3 million loss, or 2.7 percent, in economic impact.
However, the impact was more than $107.6 million, which Brown called “a pretty good number” because $100 million is a typical benchmark.
“Almost every one of (Fort Wayne's) attractions is having an off year,” Brown said.
“The fact that we're self-sufficient is a rarity (in the arena industry). Most arenas operate with a deficit. We're very fortunate that we (generally) do better than that.”
Brown attributed at least part of the decreases to a good economy – more people may be working more overtime, which cuts into leisure pursuits, he said.
Bonnie Kemp, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, said attendance and financial numbers for 2018 were not yet available but the trend was likely lower attendance.
“I know our attendance was down a little bit because of the weather,” she said. “We had a wet summertime.”
Dan O'Connell, president and chief executive officer of Visit Fort Wayne, agreed that outdoor attractions suffered a bit this year.
“It wasn't devastating, but it wasn't the boom year like we were experiencing,” he said.
He saw the economy as being good for tourism attractions in the upcoming year, noting hotel occupancy was up in 2018 and that should continue.
“I think the strong economy is influencing travel in a positive way,” he said.