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Struggling Alerus Center seeks funds from city of Grand Forks to make payroll

Forum Communications Co. file photo

GRAND FORKS - The Alerus Center is asking for more money from the city to cover projected losses of up to $271,000.

Finance Director Karla Anderson made the request before the City Council's finance committee Monday night. She said the money is needed to make payroll in August, but not in the fall once the University of North Dakota's football games begin.

The committee recommended that, for now, the council allocate $240,000 in existing funds to the city-owned events center. Those funds include reimbursements from the facility management firm VenuWorks, which Anderson works for, for not meeting financial goals in past years and parts of a concert fund that the city had given the Alerus Center.

The council will vote on the matter at its meeting next Monday.

Last year, the building lost $46,000, and the year before, it lost $145,000.

The culprit has been the poor performance of the arena side of the business, which has suffered from a dearth of concerts. This year in particular, VenuWorks is complaining that there just aren't many artists touring in this region.

As a consequence, some advertisers and suite holders refused to renew their contracts this year, which was the Alerus Center's 10th anniversary. VenuWorks budgeted that revenue from those sources would total $579,100 this year, but it got only $354,000, according to city records.

The Tim McGraw concert in May, which drew 7,500 fans and earned the events center $6,000, appeared not to have made enough of a difference.

The $270,000 loss assumes that the Alerus Center will not have any other events this fall other than what it's got scheduled now, according to Anderson. However, the events center is working on a series of classic hard-rock concerts in the fall and are close enough to a deal that $160,000 in the concert fund has been set aside.

These concerts are part of VenuWorks' strategy to make money in the arena again. Classic rock concerts tend to attract a fair-sized crowd but don't cost as much as big-name stars.

At the same time, Anderson said, management will work to get more advertising and suite contracts.

Tu-Uyen Tran writes for the Grand Forks Herald