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More shows, new foundation and business partnerships to help offset costs

The Cheyenne Civic Center’s season has suddenly grown from about seven shows a season to more than 80.  But that expansion hasn’t been cheap and the budget and expenses have also increased. The City and Civic Center staff are working to offset the higher costs, and celebrating the community and economic impact of the expanded season. 

A recent advertising handout said the Civic Center had an economic impact of $2.8 million on downtown Cheyenne during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. “When you bring in a thousand to 1500 people 80 to 100 times a year, there is an economic impact to the area,” said Jason Sanchez, Deputy Director of the Cheyenne Department of Community Recreation and Events.

“This is a revenue generator for the community,” added Teresa Moore, Director of Community Recreation and Events.

The increased costs are a concern. The Cheyenne Civic Center was built in 1981 and has always been subsidized by the city. “The Civic Center really isn’t a for-profit type of center,” added Sanchez.

Ten years ago, the annual subsidy was $309,240. The subsidy dropped to $120,000 both this year and last year. But that doesn’t tell the full story. Sanchez said the Civic Center brought in $1,991,657.25 in revenue in fiscal year 2018-2019.  That includes money from ticket sales, rental of the Civic Center by outside groups and shows, concessions, and the $120,000 subsidy from the City’s General Fund.  However, expenses for the Civic Center totaled $2,683,295.29, meaning the Civic Center was in the hole by $691,638.04.

That number is offset by two factors.  First, $100,000 is listed as depreciation on the building, which is important as far as accounting and taxes are concerned, but is not a cash expense. Second, the Civic Center is part of the city Department of Community Recreation and Events. There are 12 divisions in that department, including the Botanic Gardens, Cemetery, Civic Center, Ice and Events Center, and the Aquatic Center. The department overall spent $515,621.78 less than was budgeted, and that money is being returned to the General Fund. The department plans to discuss the shortfall with the Mayor and City Council, and hopes to have that money applied to the Civic Center shortfall. If the Governing Body agrees, that would still leave $76,016.26 that the city would have to allocate to balance the Civic Center’s budget.

A good portion of the income for the Civic Center comes from rentals.  When a performing group like ABBA or Norah Jones comes to Cheyenne, they rent the facility for $6,500 a day.

But if the Civic Center brings a show to Cheyenne, it can make or lose money depending on ticket sales. A Broadway show could cost $65,000 to bring to Cheyenne. Sanchez says some shows make money and others lose money, but for the full season, the Civic Center breaks even or comes out ahead. Even so, there are losses over the season.

The Civic Center provides deep discounts to local non-profit groups such as Laramie County School District #1, Wyoming Ballet, the FFA, Deployment ceremonies, naturalization ceremonies and the Cheyenne Symphony. Those discounts mean the Civic Center loses money when a local non-profit or government agency uses the facility.

Ticket Sales will cover the cost of bringing a show to Cheyenne, but they aren’t enough to pay other bills. For example, the annual cost for electricity in the building is $77,000, and that’s not covered by ticket sales.

The Civic Center is taking several steps to ease the financial crunch. It just created a separate Cheyenne Civic Center Foundation. The Foundation is a 501c3 charity and its focus will be on fundraising. The Center changed its concessions program to include malt liquor sales.  And it approached local businesses to sponsor a new Arts Access program.  Arts Access will provide tickets to those who could not afford them otherwise, through programs such as Recover Wyoming, the Comea Shelter, and Magic City Enterprises. “That’s a real exciting program,” said Amy Gorbey, Civic Center Venue Manager.

The Civic Center is also partnering with local businesses to offer discounts at downtown restaurants and bars for people attending a Civic Center performance.

The Civic Center is fine tuning its schedule, seeing which kinds of shows bring in more people.  It’s also reaching out to a variety of audiences, by offering stage productions, concerts, magic shows, and more. 

“Our first goal was to try to get as many people in the door as possible,” said Sanchez.

And things are starting to look up. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which started July 1, the Civic Center made a profit of $60,000. Sanchez also made the point that the diversity in types of shows are bringing in people who may never have attended a performance at the Civic Center before.