LIMA — Veterans Memorial Civic Center is running out of dollars.
“COVID has kept us from holding an enormous amount of events we typically have,” Civic Center CEO Abe Ambroza said Thursday. “We’re approaching a budget crisis at the Civic Center.”
He estimates that the organization currently has roughly two months worth of funds left in its operations budget despite cutting half of its payroll.
But there may be a temporary solution in the Civic Center’s marketing fund.
Ambroza met with Allen County Commissioners Thursday to ask them to allow the organization to use $238,000 of its marketing dollars for operational costs. By the end of the meeting, commissioners agreed and began to draft legislation. Altogether, that leaves enough for the Civic Center to continue through spring 2021 when Ambroza expects graduation parties and dance recitals to pick back up.
“Every weekend for all of 2021 is just about booked,” he said.
Fiscal problems aren’t new to the Civic Center in 2020. Entertainment venues have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic as people are less likely to attend shows in large numbers.
Niswonger Performing Arts Center has even put a hold on operations. A pre-recorded message now plays there when its number is called.
“The curtains are drawn, but the show is not over. The Van Wert Live Team will be taking an intermission until its safe to provide entertainment to our beloved patrons.”
Ambroza said the Civic Center Foundation has considered the same thing, but because of the center’s exhibition hall rentals, it can still bring in money — just not near as much as it did pre-pandemic.
Part of the budget problem for the Civic Center has been a lack of government support, Ambroza said. While CARES Act dollars flooded the accounts of businesses, non-profits, governments and individuals, there was nothing designated for county-owned entertainment venues. The only thing they’ve been able to get reimbursements for has been purchases of hand sanitizer and Plexiglas. Meanwhile, the Civic Center’s two largest costs — standard payroll and utility costs — don’t qualify for CARES Act funds.
Even a recently released pot of money on the state level meant to keep the arts alive won’t help the Civic Center as it hasn’t used Ohio Arts Council dollars in the past.
“We have not received anything. No PPP. No grants or anything,” Ambroza said.
Luckily, community support has helped the Civic Center stay alive so far. A telethon organized earlier in the year drew in $80,000, and there have been some events, such as weddings and funerals that have helped bring in dollars. Ambroza said organizers are also looking at bringing back film nights or hosting online shows.
“We’re looking at some other touring shows that can be done virtually in the exhibit hall for a virtual experience, but we haven’t found the right deal,” Ambroza said.
In the meantime, the Civic Center’s marketing dollars will have to do the trick.
“In my opinion, there’s no better way to market the Civic Center than to keep us open,” Ambroza said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.