WRAL Investigates

Some publicly run venues in N.C. losing money

Posted March 18, 2010

— Raleigh is getting ready to build an outdoor amphitheater near the convention center. Millions are set aside to the get the project moving, and the city expects the theater to make about $500,000 a year.

However, a WRAL News investigation into other publicly run entertainment venues found that turning a profit is harder than it sounds.

From the RBC Center in Raleigh, to the Booth Amphitheater in Cary, to municipal golf courses all across our area, the major venues are losing money, and taxpayers are making up the difference.

In the brown dirt off Raleigh's McDowell Street, city leaders hope to turn up some green.

“We do believe it can be a break even to half a million dollar net revenue for us,” said Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen.

WRAL Investigates Some publicly run venues losing money in N.C.

The goal is transform the field into something similar to Chastain Park in Atlanta. Raleigh leaders are using it as a model for a 4,200-seat amphitheater here. It will sit in the shadow of two publicly run venues that need taxpayers to balance the books.

“The public should expect to be proud of these venues,” Allen said. But he points out that pride requires a public investment.

The convention and performing arts center complex produced almost $13 million in revenue last fiscal year compared with $17 million in expenditures. Taxpayers made up the difference.

“There would not be our expectation that it's going to break even or make money, maybe not in the life of the facility,” Allen said.

Former City Council Member Philip Isley says Raleigh needs public venues, but leaders need to work harder to raise more revenue through shows or private sponsors, not just fall back on taxpayers.

“In these times you've got to figure out how to get more revenue out of public buildings," he said.

The WRAL Investigates team found other locally run venues leaning on taxpayers. During the last concert season, the Koka Booth Amphitheater at Regency Park in Cary had an operating loss of $172,000 – the smallest loss since it opened in 2001.

In Cumberland County, the Crown Coliseum had operating revenues of $2.4 million last year and operating expenditures double that amount. The Crown received more than $3 million from the county's general fund and food-beverage taxes to cover operating expenses.

Back in Raleigh, some venues do return revenue. The RBC Center gets about $7 million a year in hotel-motel and food and beverage taxes. It also pays out more than $4 million to local government. Time Warner Pavilion is even more profitable. Raleigh's general fund gets a $1 million boost from the lease money each year.

That's the exception though. Most public venues operate at a financial loss. Still, leaders point to gains elsewhere such as increased tourism, economic impact for nearby businesses and overall quality of life.

"It is a public space. And so there are things you do in public spaces that may not be necessarily bottom-line driven," Allen said.


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  • corey3rd Mar 19, 2010

    The Charlotte Motor Speedway proved it was cheap when they had that bridge collapse and hurt all those people. And there was whole fight with the CMS over wanting more tax breaks or the owner would move out of the city and take his races elsewhere

  • Unknown Caller Mar 19, 2010

    How is it that facilities built with public money cannot make a profit and facilities built with private money (ie. The Charlotte Motor Speedway) make millions? Maybe local governments should take some notes from the groups that own these racetracks.

  • ncguy Mar 19, 2010

    If you build it they will come?

    Not hardly-

    here's why

    Poor parking
    Far from the urban population
    to small to get any big time entertainers
    too many other venues close by

    This is just a start...

    time to rethink this mr russell- sorry your construction buddies won't get the contracts...

  • wdkanesfan Mar 19, 2010

    Looks like the good people of Roanoke Rapids aren't the only ones taking a loss on entertainment venues. You have to look at the big picture. The effect on the other aspects of the local economy are positive. As I have said before, if the Randy Parton Theatre had of been a success right from the start, the people behind it would have been geniuses. But since it wasn't, they are deemed idiots.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Mar 19, 2010

    you can expect HEALTHCARE to be the largest one of these EVER!

  • aspenstreet1717 Mar 19, 2010

    Yet another drain on the working people of NC. Multiple 'Randi Parton theater's' springing up all over Wake Co. These clowns would not last a week in private industry.

  • corey3rd Mar 19, 2010

    "If the private sector ran the post office, you could mail a letter for ten cents and the CEO would make 20 million dollars a year."

    dream on. If the private sector ran the post office, you'd be paying extra for daily deliveries. And a letter would cost $1.

  • corey3rd Mar 19, 2010

    the sweetheart deal with the Canes insures RBC will never be a money maker.

    What's remarkable is that Live Nation paid the city a million dollars for what was their lowest number of concerts yet at Walnut Creek. They had 18 shows. Is there a real estate deal going down with this payment since rumors have it that they want to dump the space which is why they have the city building the downtown asphalt jungle

  • BuglessDuster Mar 19, 2010

    The only way the government knows to make money is to take it from people.

    If the private sector ran the post office, you could mail a letter for ten cents and the CEO would make 20 million dollars a year.

  • dwntwnboy Mar 19, 2010

    "Where is all the money going for packed houses of basketball fans, hockey fans"- there hasn't been a "packed house" for either team all season...I think the UNC & Duke games were close to "packed" but have yet to see a sell out this year- I work there and have been at every game.