VenuWorks — the company that manages the Davenport RiverCenter and Adler Theatre — did such a good job keeping both buildings busy during a shaky national economic climate that city staff, the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and the developers of the Blackhawk Hotel are urging aldermen to extend its contract for five more years.
The contract with Ames, Iowa-based VenuWorks, which has managed the downtown convention space and theater since 1998, is up in August. Typically, the city sends out a request for proposals, or RFP, seeking competition for the job. When the company’s last contract ended four years ago, VenuWorks was the only company to submit a bid.
That, combined with overall satisfaction with the current team and longtime local manager Rick Palmer, has prompted staff to recommend extending the agreement through 2015.
Alan Guard, the city’s finance director, noted that the facilities create between $15 million and $19 million in direct economic impact downtown annually, typically without using up all of a $633,000 annual subsidy from the city.
“That is a 17-to-1 return on investment,” Guard said. “It makes sense to keep this team together.”
VenuWorks also was endorsed by Joe Taylor, the president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau, and by Amy and Amrit Gill of Restoration St. Louis, who are in the midst of a multi-million renovation of the Blackhawk Hotel, which connected to the RiverCenter.
Taylor pointed out that several conventions — most notably the Iowa State Pool Players Association, which has come to Davenport five straight years — regularly rebook and that participants in other events have had overwhelmingly positive comments about their experience in Davenport.
“The convention business is largely based on long-term planning and relationship-building,” he said. “I think it is wise to keep in place a management team that has done a good job.”
The Blackhawk’s Gold Room will be added to the RiverCenter’s selection of meeting spaces, and Amy Gill said she has told several aldermen she is comfortable with Palmer and appreciates VenuWork’s extensive experience.
“I expressed our desire to continue with them, given that the Blackhawk will soon be opening and we’ve done a lot of coordinating with them,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to switch horses midstream. They bring us room nights. They have a team over there who understands what we’re trying to do.”
Aldermen discussed the VenuWorks contract at a Monday night work session and most seemed comfortable with extending the contract. Alderman Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward, was the only one who expressed doubt, citing some ongoing maintenance concerns and a desire for competition.
“I’ve been an advocate of going out for an RFP,” he said. “I think a five-year contract might be too long.”
Under a new contract, VenuWorks also plans on taking over in-house food and beverage service. Currently, the company outsources catering to the nearby Radisson Quad-City Plaza. However, Guard said, the Radisson asked for an increased percentage of the revenue generated and there now is enough volume of business that it makes sense for the city and VenuWorks to provide its own staff. Guard estimated that doing so could reduce the overall annual subsidy by $30,000 to $40,000.
Bobbi Rogalski, chair of the RiverCenter/Adler Advisory Committee, urged alderman to extend the contract when it comes before the city council in May.
“Right now, the management of the RiverCenter and Adler is top notch,” she said. “Rick (Palmer) is out there building relationships, and you can’t ask for more right now.”