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The 220,000 sq ft Lancaster (PA) County Convention Center
 Faces $1 million Deficit

By Bernard Harris, Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

November 20, 2009 --The question has never been whether the Lancaster County Convention Center would lose money. The question has always been how much.

The answer Thursday night: $973,084 next year.

That number is the bottom line of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority's operating budget for the center for 2010.

Authority board members unanimously passed the budget for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the company that operates the 220,000-square-foot meeting center and the attached Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square hotel.

The budget was the first full-year spending plan for facility, which opened in June. Combined with the hotel, the cost of the Penn Square project was $177.6 million.

From the time the convention center was proposed a decade ago, planners expected the facility to lose money. That loss, however, was expected to be more than offset by the dollars spent by conventioneers at county stores, restaurants and hotels.

Yet, the loss contained in the budget passed at Thursday's monthly board meeting, was about a third more than the $660,000 annual loss previously projected in the Interstate budget, said Kevin Molloy, the authority executive director.

A separate budget, of about $400,000, funds the authority and its operations. That budget was also approved Thursday.

The $300,000 difference between initial projects for the Interstate budget and the approved amount came from higher than expected energy costs, Molloy said. The cost of heating and cooling the space and lighting it are anticipated to be much higher with the end of rate caps on electricity, Molloy said.

He said Interstate will be looking at ways to curb those costs, such as having a limited number of keys to open the massive garage doors onto the exhibit hall in order to keep cool or warm air inside, lowering temperatures in vacant rooms and lowering lighting levels.

Authority board Chairman Kevin Fry praised the conservation measures, but added: "I don't think we're going to make up $300,000."

Also noted in the budget discussions was the number of bookings for the convention center space. The $1.4 million from hall rental and concessions looks more like a revenue projection for a second-year facility instead of one in its first year, Molloy said.

In recent weeks, the center has hosted events as varied as a motorcycle show, a Christmas art and crafts festival and dinner galas for such groups as Ephrata Community Hospital and the Urban League of Lancaster County.

A three-day quilting convention and show coming in March promises to be the largest event yet for the center. That event is expected to draw 17,000 people.

The largest source of revenue for the center is not the fees charged for use of the hall but a 3.9 percent tax on county hotel rooms. That hotel room tax is expected to bring in $3.7 million next year.

Initial projections were for the tax revenue to be higher. Those projections were made in 2007 before the economic downtown, Molloy said. Now, Molloy is projected flat revenue for the coming year.

Center operations will also be supported by bond revenue used to finance the project and a $1 million line of credit, Molloy said.

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To see more of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.lancasteronline.com/newera.

Copyright (c) 2009, Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Pa.

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