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City to assume management of Event Center at Brushy Fork at least through June

BUCKHANNON – The Event Center at Brushy Fork will soon operate directly under the City of Buckhannon – at least temporarily.

Buckhannon City Council approved a motion to hire a part-time event center manager for 90 days at their regular meeting last Thursday. The position will run from April 1 through the end of June. The Upshur County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which has managed the event center since it opened in 2014, will continue to operate the facility through March 31.

As detailed in My Buckhannon’s previous coverage, the CVB can no longer manage the center due to changes made by the West Virginia Legislature relating to how CVBs must spend their funding. Now, to remain accredited, salaries should be about 40% of the CVB’s budget, marketing another 40% and operating costs 20%.

Because Upshur County is a smaller tourism market, the CVB can no longer employ the full-time manager and part-time staff necessary to run the event center, while still hitting those budgetary requirements.

City recorder Randy Sanders said the city reached out to the West Virginia National Guard, which owns the building.

“We did reach out to the Readiness Center management team,” Sanders told council. “We had a telephone conversation where we discussed our questions moving forward and explored some options, so there’s some correspondence going back and forth, which will then be considered by their leadership.”

The City of Buckhannon has two ongoing financial obligations related to the event center: first, repaying the $765,000 loan the city took out to finance construction in 2013, and second, a contract with the National Guard to pay 17% of all the utilities at the facility. The loan payments will run through 2053.

With the CVB ending their management duties next month, Sanders asked council to consider a short-term solution while a more permanent arrangement is explored.

“The calendar just keeps ticking along,” Sanders said. “We have obligations beyond March 31 that we will need to honor, and we need to start working on those obligations so that there is no negativity pushed into the laps of unsuspecting renters, who simply want to have an event at a conference center.”

Sanders suggested offering a part-time, temporary position to the current manager, Katelyn Wine, while council considers whether the city should assume management of the conference center long-term.

“[We should] consider a part-time position for a short period of time through the transition, and then if we need to take it over as a city entity, we would have to repost the job,” Sanders said.

City councilman David McCauley noted that the city must fulfill its financial obligations to the center regardless of who is managing it.

“The city is the lessee, not the CVB,” McCauley said. “We’re on the hook for certain things under that lease agreement, no matter what.”

Sanders and mayor Robbie Skinner both said that due to those obligations, council should strongly consider managing the center as a city entity.

“That’s very well put,” Sanders told McCauley. “I would strongly ask council to consider the city just managing that facility moving forward. It’s going to mean we search for a strong salesperson, a management-type person who can lead it and get the type of events that make sense for a conference center.”

“We have financial obligations, whether it’s open or not, whether anybody is using it or not,” Sanders continued. “I think we need to take a strong look at continuing to provide the conference center to the public as an asset.”

“I agree,” Skinner said, adding that council should consider the community and economic benefits of the center as a whole. “We are a service organization and we provide services to our community.”

Councilman CJ Rylands asked if the city would be lowering the current 70% allotment of hotel/motel sales tax that goes to the CVB since they will no longer be managing the event center.

“No, I don’t think that we can do that,” Skinner replied. “If we cut any funding from the CVB, the CVB will close. That’s where we are at. We have lost significant hotel/motel revenue in this community. The Hampton Inn is gone, and the current hotel out there is not getting the same kind of traction as the Hampton Inn once did. Part of the Bicentennial is now apartments; the Colonial is now apartments. We do not have what we once did.”

“We never did, as a community, recover after COVID to where we were seeing those higher rates of hotel and motel occupancy,” Skinner added. “So, really, if anything, we should be looking at 70%, maybe 75%. We’re not in a position to cut anything from the CVB if we want the CVB to continue.”

Councilman David Thomas noted that the city has incurred new fixed costs in recent years, including running the Colonial Arts Center and additional expenses related to the upcoming expansion of the Stockert Youth and Community Center. While he urged caution, he also expressed optimism that the increase in sales tax has afforded the city the ability to pursue those opportunities.

Following the discussion, council unanimously agreed to approach Wine about a part-time, 90-day position managing the center.

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