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Star Center finances looking up

The finances of the Santa Ana Star Center, pictured here during the Pork & Brew event in 2013, are gradually improving, say its managers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The finances of the Santa Ana Star Center, pictured here during the Pork & Brew event in 2013, are gradually improving, say its managers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Santa Ana Star Center isn’t making a profit, but its finances are gradually improving, according to managers.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the City of Rio Rancho budgeted an $874,000 subsidy for the Star Center, but the event venue in City Center needed not quite $769,000, almost $106,000 less than expected, city spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said in an email. The expense was $3,000 more than the previous fiscal year.

For that year, fiscal 2013-14, the subsidy was a little more than $766,000, which was about $142,000 less than the budgeted $908,500, according to Garcia’s numbers.

This fiscal year, the city budget for the Star Center is almost $859,000.

Those numbers include operating expenses, not payments on the bond that financed construction of the building.

Center construction cost about $47 million, Garcia said. The bonds are scheduled to be paid off in 2032, with $37.9 million in interest and principle left to be repaid.

“The Star Center’s going to be a journey,” said Matt Geisel, city economic development and business relations manager.

He said the facility is “most definitely” doing fine financially.

“We’ve always tried to manage expectations,” Geisel said.

The center has been making incremental financial progress over the past few years, which has been the goal, Geisel said.

The vast majority of venues, like the Star Center, around the nation receive subsidies, he said. Managers plan the Star Center budget five years at a time and Geisel expects it will continue needing a subsidy for at least the next five years.

He said managers hope to see increases in attendance, which results in decreased subsidies. Quality shows and good customer service help attendance, he added.

Star Center General Manager Shane Cadwell said the facility drew in a total attendance for all events, ticketed and otherwise, of 300,000 people from September 2014 to August 2015. That number is up slightly from past years, he said.

Cadwell, who works for city contract management company Spectra Venue Management, attributed the decreased subsidies to aggressive event booking using Spectra’s company network, as well as good marketing, and efficient staffing and spending.

Increasing the number of events at the center improves finances.

Before Spectra took over, Geisel said, the venue had only about six months of activity. Now, it has almost 11 months of regular events.

This fiscal year, he said, the first ticketed event happened in July, compared to November in the past.

Garcia said 131 events took place at the Star Center this past fiscal year, down just barely from 135 the year before.

Star Center employees make weekly calls to event promoters and coordinate with other Spectra facilities to bring shows to Rio Rancho.

“It’s continually meeting and reaching out to promoters to stay in the front of their minds,” he said.

Geisel said Spectra has rebuilt a positive perception of the Star Center after the negative one left by the previous management company. The Harlem Globetrotters, for instance, once refused to have anything to do with the Star Center, but now they’ve started visiting repeatedly, he said.

Cadwell said getting repeat visits from performing groups involves providing a level of comfort and advancing the event. For touring groups, their current venue becomes their temporary home, so Star Center staff must make sure the wireless Internet service works, the catering is on time and tasty, the visitors have office space and so forth.

The Star Center has economic impact, Cadwell said, increasing quality of life, bringing in jobs, and housing community events such as high school graduation ceremonies and St. Baldrick’s children’s cancer fundraiser.

Spectra has 12 or 13 full-time employees at the Star Center, plus 200 to 250 people who serve as stage hands, parking attendants, concession workers and the like only during events. Cadwell said most of the staff members are from this area.

As for community events, Geisel said Rio Rancho high schools used to hold commencement at the Pit in Albuquerque, but now they can have the ceremonies in their own backyard and book graduation parties in Rio Rancho.

Also, he said New Mexico Activities Association state championships at the Star Center bring a lot of money to the city, even though they aren’t ticketed events and showcase Rio Rancho.

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