Negotiations continue for new management

Negotiations continue for new management

As 2016 comes to a close, Jefferson County has yet to ink a deal with a new management firm to oversee the Ford Park Entertainment Complex. After months of negotiation, a contract to secure the services of a management firm for the publicly subsidized entertainment complex is held up as lawyers review the proposition on the table, according to county purchasing agent Deborah Clark.

Under the tenure of SMG, Ford Park has run at a nearly $2 million annual deficit – a deficit charged to taxpayers of Jefferson County.

In October, after nearly 15 years with SMG as the management provider for Ford Park, Jefferson County commissioners opted to end business ties to SMG and secure the services of Spectra, a competitor in the field that has pitched a business plan to reduce the subsidy needed to run Ford Park and bring new life to the underperforming venue. County Commissioners Eddie Arnold, Michael “Shane” Sinegal and Everett “Bo” Alfred voted to award Ford Park’s management contract to SMG’s competitor, Spectra. According to scoring tabulations by an evaluation committee appointed by members of the Commissioners Court and provided for review before the vote, Spectra was the top choice based on its submissions to the county’s request for proposals.

Commissioner Alfred said he was of the mindset that change was needed at Ford Park, and added that the county’s elected officials have been open to change for quite some time. However, a lack of management firms responding to requests for proposals limited the county’s options.

Purchasing agent Clark said that the county did try to go out and seek new bids for Ford Park management in 2012 but received no responses. Even in 2016, there wasn’t much interest from other agencies trying to get into the Ford Park management game, with only current provider SMG and Spectra responding to the county’s requisition.

“Spectra is the only one that’s called asking questions,” Clark said in July. “I advertised in the newspapers twice, and I have a bidders list we sent the proposal to (of seven potential bidders). We even extended the bid.”

 

Part of the problem in getting willing management teams to come to Ford Park, some theorize, is the fact that publicly subsidized ventures such as the county’s entertainment complex rarely make any money. Jefferson County auditor Patrick Swain said it may even be hard-pressed for anyone to make a break-even bid to run the facility at Ford Park, which includes “all aspects of the complex including operations, concessions, scheduling, ticketing and marketing” for Ford Fields, Ford Pavilion, Ford Arena, the main lobby, meeting rooms, Ford Exhibit Hall, the Barns, and Ford Midway, collectively known as the Ford Park Entertainment Complex.

According to Swain, Ford Park has never turned a profit and has always needed public subsidy.

“Of course we’re going to try to lower our subsidy that we have to pay each year,” Swain said of the expected outcome in opening up the Ford Park management contract to new bidders. “Right now, we give roughly $2 million for operations. (SMG) comes to us and says ‘Here’s your budget. We think we’re going to have so many events the next year’ which brings in X dollars. Payroll, repairs, management fees … utilities is a big expense, maintenance. … And that’s where the county has to come out of the general fund for the extra.”

Spectra Business Development Director Tom McDonnell said he fully expects to bring a better value to Jefferson County than what it was receiving with SMG. He told The Examiner that he hoped to have a contract in place for the management of Ford Park by Jan. 1, 2017, but was optimistic of contractual negotiations at the year’s end.

“We’re ready to get in and get started,” he said. “We have a transition plan that we are ready to implement.”

According to McDonnell, staffing, concession sales and event-booking are just a few key areas that will need review as the new company comes in to oversee Ford Park’s finances and programs.

Jefferson County had received a draft contract to secure Spectra’s services at the beginning of October, but the county and Spectra have yet to agree on a final version of the deal.

“It just needs all the legal smoothed out,” Clark said. “It still hasn’t been finalized because it has legal issues that need to be ironed out.

“Right now, the legal department is passing it among themselves for verbiage.”

Clark said the county is thoroughly reviewing the contract proposal with Spectra but is on pace to have a deal secured well in advance of the deadline to have a new management team in place – which is March 31, 2017, as SMG’s contract to manage Ford Park expires April 1, 2017.

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