Columbus Cottonmouths

With Snakes done for now, Civic Center looks to fill gap with more concerts

City officials say filling some of the Civic Center dates vacated by the Columbus Cottonmouths with concerts like the recent Chris Stapleton show could fill the financial void.
City officials say filling some of the Civic Center dates vacated by the Columbus Cottonmouths with concerts like the recent Chris Stapleton show could fill the financial void. Ledger-Enquirer file photo

As the Columbus Civic Center is facing at least a year without a professional hockey, the city-owned and operated facility is looking to the fill the gap and that could mean more concerts this fall into next year.

Last week, the Southern Professional Hockey League announced that the Columbus Cottonmouths were suspending operations for the 2017-18 season as the club searches for new ownership. The Cottonmouths have been a Civic Center tenant since the facility opened in 1996, playing 21 consecutive seasons of minor league hockey.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said he is optimistic that hockey will return to the Civic Center for the 2018-19 season, but that won’t stop the city from working now to fill the hole. The Cottonmouths played about 30 games a season in the Civic Center, paying the city a flat fee of $3,000 per game date, according to the current contract between the city and Cottonmouths owner Wanda Amos, signed Jan. 11, 2016.

“We are going to take this opportunity to bring in other events, such as concerts and family-friendly events,” Hugley said. “The last four or five concerts we have booked have done well. We had more than 6,000 for Charlie Wilson and about 9,000 for Chris Stapleton. The net income for those events were pretty good.”

Wilson, the former lead singer for The Gap Band, played Columbus in December and Stapleton, one of country music’s most popular acts, played here to a sold-out arena last month.

The key is booking the right concerts, Hugley said.

“You can make up for 28 to 30 hockey dates pretty quickly if you get the right entertainment,” Hugley said.

The Civic Center is currently operating under a $7.37 million budget. It was recently amended because of additional revenue generated by the Charlie Wilson and Chris Stapleton concerts. The original approved budget was $5.37 million.

Last year, the Civic Center produced about $75,000 more than expenses and turned that money back to the city’s general fund. For the second consecutive fiscal year, the center will likely generate more revenue than expenses, Civic Center Director Jon A. Dorman said on Monday.

The impact from hosting no Cottonmouths games can be seen in the Civic Center’s proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget. Before last week’s announcement, the Civic Center presented a $5.402 million budget. That has been amended to a $4.994 million budget Columbus Council will consider.

Cottonmouths games have been money makers for the Civic Center. Including the team’s rent and concessions, which all go to the Civic Center, the city brings in on average $7,000 per game. Event expenses are on average $4,000, leaving a $3,500 profit, according to Dorman.

The Civic Center employs 20 full-time staff and 129 part-time workers.

“I anticipate a slight decline in the number of part-time employees with the loss of 28 game dates,” Dorman said. “There are no plans to eliminate any full-time positions at this time.”

Another area that is impacted is the Civic Center food service contracts.

Local restauranteur Mark Jones said he will have conversations about renewing his lease with the Civic Center in the coming days. Jones operates Mark’s Stadium Grill, one of the local restaurants contracted to provide food service during events. Mark’s Stadium Grill, Bruster’s and Nathan’s Hot Dogs and Chester’s Barbeque are the three primary food vendors for the Civic Center.

Jones is finishing his second year and said the venture has been profitable. He pays the city $20,000 per year for the rights to sell signature burgers and other concessions.

“We have every intention of staying in another year and seeing what will happen,” Jones said on Monday. “We are going to have to get together with the city quickly and work it out.”

The current agreement expires next month, Jones said. He will be looking for more favorable terms without the 30 dates the Cottonmouths brought to the 21-year-old arena.

“We need to see what they are willing to do to make up the dates lost by the Cottonmouths,” Jones said. “There is no way we can stay in at the current deal.”

The Civic Center is in the process of renegotiating those deals, Dorman said on Monday.

“We are taking a look at all that right now,” he said.

The current food service deal was put in place in 2014 when the Civic Center replaced Centerplate, a national food vendor based in Connecticut. Centerplate held the food service contract in the Civic Center for five years.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams