The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Exceeding expectations 

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  •  By Chad Frey?Newton Kansan?The Meridian Center opened about a year ago — and it has been a busy place since the doors swung open.?“We are exceeding our expectations,” said manager Michael Lunsford.?In about a year, the center hosted 168 events with more than 14,649 attendees. There are formulae state tourism officials use to calculate the economic impact of those more than 14,000 — but Lunsford isn’t comfortable using that calculation.?He says a number of those people are local, which means they likely wouldn’t spend $238 a day like visitors to the community do — according to the state calculations.?But there is a hard number he has — $17,343 in sales tax collected in one year of operation.?“The sales tax goes into the general fund,” said assistant city manager Tim Johnson. “The general fund also supports the Meridian Center. This helps cover the costs of having the Meridian Center.”?Lunsford said the first year receipts have “exceeded expectations” of Kemper Sports, the company contracted to manage the facility.?On the city side, the expectations were not very clear entering into the construction of the conference center — however the demand has exceeded what Johnson expected in the first year.?“There was nothing to benchmark against — nothing of this size, scope or quality has been built in Harvey County. We new there was market demand for this, we just did not know how deep that demand,” Johnson said. “The demand was deeper that we thought — and has been for hotel rooms as well.”?The demand for hotel rooms might confirm what Lunsford observes at the center — during events he routinely walks the parking lot, checking license plates.?He wants to know where the people inside the building are from.?“A good percentage come from out of the area,” Lunsford said. “We are bringing in money that does not come from our residents. ... That affects the economy in a positive way, and it reduces the tax liability of residents.”?Jim Schwarzenberger of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce said those out-of-town guests are important — and the benefits of their attending events at the Meridian Center extend outside the convention center walls.?“I believe it translates to greater exposure for our community as a whole,” Schwarzenberger said. “I know they encourage people to get out into the community.”?Despite the good news, the Center did received subsides from the city — and that is likely to continue.?“These facilities do not support themselves,”?Johnson said. “Their goal is to cover all costs, and the reality is if they do they would be the only ones in the country that does.”?Lunsford’s projections are for even more events in 2012 and future growth.?Lunsford said the center should match, or exceed, the number of visitors and sales tax collections again this year — and in the years to come. The center has events scheduled as far in advance as 2015.?“2013 is looking better than 2012, and 2012 has exceeded expectations so far,” Lunsford said. “We came in with a five year plan to get to a good position, and we are well ahead of that plan.”.”
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