California University ends contract with firm hired to book center

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Almost a year and a half after California University of Pennsylvania opened its $59 million convocation center, which prompted questions about whether the university could consistently fill the venue's 6,000-seat capacity, Cal U announced Monday it will sever its contract with VenueWorks, a company it hired to do just that.

"As we looked ahead to next year's budget, with a focus on academics first, we realized that the professional services that VenueWorks was providing was something we couldn't afford," Cal U spokeswoman Christine Kindl said.

VenueWorks charges the university $10,416 per month as a "base management fee," an amount Ms. Kindl said had simply become too much in the context of declines in enrollment and state support.

The university will spend $44,000 to end the contract early, according to a news release, and will transition a VenueWorks employee who was largely responsible for technical equipment to Cal U's payroll.

Cal U will continue to lease the center for sporting events and conferences, work that is already handled internally, Ms. Kindl said.

But without VenueWorks, it is unclear whether the university will continue to seek performers like Kenny Rodgers, Bob Dylan or the Original Harlem Globetrotters after the contract expires Nov. 30.

A Nov. 5 concert featuring John Fogerty will be held as planned.

John Siehl, a VenueWorks spokesman, said he is disappointed with Cal U's decision and added it will be challenging for the university to attract the same level of entertainment.

"Frankly, it's a very difficult job to attract sports and entertainment to venues in today's world," he said. "For a management company or anyone doing it on their own -- it's a phenomenal job."

In 2005, years before Cal U broke ground on the convocation center, consultants at Brailsford & Dunlavey, who were hired by the university, said the venue might be too big for its market.

"The arena facility would appeal to small touring shows, and consequently, would best operate and complement the existing market supply with a seating capacity of 3,500," according to a report obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under the state Right-to-Know Law.

Michael Slavin, the head of the faculty union and critic of the university's handling of the convocation center from the start, also was skeptical that Cal U would ever fill the seats and make money from its contract with VenueWorks.

"A great deal of money from the previous administration was put into the convocation center, and I thought it was a pretty bad idea," Mr. Slavin said. "There will be many faculty who say 'thank goodness they're doing this -- they finally get it.' "

Ms. Kindl said she could not comment on why VenueWorks was hired or whether it brought in more money than it charged.

"It serves no purpose to revisit decisions that were made in the past," Ms. Kindl said. "The building is there. We'll make the best use of it that we can."

education - region - neigh_washington

Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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