Close to 17,000 people attended events at the Meridian Center last year — a number almost equivalent to the population of Newton.
Michael Lunsford, general manager at the Meridian Center, said the center performed even better than anticipated in its first full year of operation, and as it celebrates its second anniversary, the center is ahead of projections again.
"It definitely has exceeded our expectations and the goals we set for the center," Lunsford said.
"It seems like it's getting busier all the time," Mayor Jim Nickel said. "I've had some positive comments from people that have used it. ... I think it's an asset to the community."
The Meridian Center celebrated its grand opening in summer 2011, and it hosted a total of 209 events in 2012 (an average of four per week), drawing in 16,720 people. The center also generated $20,553 in sales tax revenue, and in 2012 it employed 21 people.
Lunsford said the center serves three main market segments: corporate, social and association. Corporate events include business meetings and non-profit fund-raisers, social events include weddings and reunions, and association events include gatherings of state and regional groups.
Lunsford said almost half — 46 percent — of bookings have been from outside Harvey County, bringing in dollars that might not otherwise be spent in Newton.
"That brings a new revenue stream to the local economy," he said.
Lunsford has heard people talk about the center's operating budget and how the city has had to contribute funding to help run the center. Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance, previously gave a report on the center's first full year of operation in 2012 and said the city had to contribute $145,577 to the convention center in order to make up the difference between revenues and expenditures.
However, city staff said this wasn't unexpected, since convention centers as an industry typically don’t make an operational profit. Lunsford said convention centers make their impact by helping other businesses throughout the community.
When people come to an event at the Meridian Center, not only do they pay a rental fee, they stay in local hotels, shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants, and fuel their cars at local gas stations, Lunsford said. Having events at the center even provides a boost to utility companies.
He said other cities in the area have even expressed an interest in building their own convention centers and modeling them after the Meridian Center.
"I have spoken to numerous communities in our general vicinity that are looking to do what we've done, and they've heard about what a great job the city of Newton has done," Lunsford said.
For more information about the Meridian Center, visit www.meridianeventcenter.com or call 284-3100.