The Cambria County War Memorial Arena has ended its current fiscal year about $18,000 in the black. That’s a far cry from the anticipated loss of $27,000 that had been projected for the authority.
That’s fantastic news, considering some years the facility posted losses of $200,000 or more.
“We’re showing a positive business model,” Steve St. John, arena general manager, told our Dave Sutor. “That’s our goal going forward.”
The manager noted that all debts have been paid and the cash flow is “very good.”
Those are positive signs that the arena may have finally stopped bleeding money and is booking attractions that are helping it turn a profit and signing moneymaking rental agreements.
One of the arena’s rental pacts is with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religious organization has been holding its annual regional meetings during multiple weekends in June at the Johnstown facility for the past four years.
When the group wrapped up its 2016 meetings, its leadership met with St. John to ink next year’s dates.
But the manager wasn’t immediately moved to sign, saying he wanted to explore if the two sides can come to terms on a more lucrative agreement for the War Memorial.
“The reason I didn’t sign it is I asked them, ‘Do you have the ability to come to the table and help me make the arena’s situation better?’ ” he told his bosses, the Cambria County War Memorial Arena Authority, at a recent board meeting.
The current pact, he said, is a break-even situation.
Talking points with the group include costs incurred when the group requests rental chairs instead of the floor seats supplied by the arena and the high costs of janitorial supplies.
“I’m looking at working with the Jehovah’s Witnesses on ways that they can increase the amount of rent that they’re paying for the services they’re getting,” St. John told our Dave Sutor.
“We’ll see if they have any room to work.”
City leaders are urging the authority to proceed cautiously, and we agree. The economic boost the group’s yearly treks to the Greater Johnstown region is a positive.
“They’re spending money in the city,” Lisa Rager, executive director of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “They’re dining out. They’re visiting things.
“These are the exact types of guests we need to have here … it seems like they’ve been well received.”
Dean Gindlesperger, authority chairman, concurred.
“We love being part of bringing people into the area and spending their money at our hotels and our restaurants and everything,” he said. “That’s great.”
But he quickly curbed his enthusiasm.
“However, I think we have to be careful how much we pay out for everyone else to make money without getting anything back.”
Past agreements had the Jehovah’s Witnesses providing in-kind services. This year, the attendees helped remove the rink’s dasher boards in preparation for an upgrade to the arena’s floor and ice-making equipment.
St. John was very appreciative of the work the group has performed to date, but said his preferred method of doing business is cash in hand.
“Anytime that anybody does something for me on trade,” he said, “I always feel like I got the less of the deal.”
Given the specifics of the in-kind work, we can understand St. John’s position.
It appears as if St. John and the group’s leaders are walking a tight rope. Too high a price and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are likely to move their convention elsewhere.
Let’s hope both sides keep level heads.
*I never know where to post things like this...is it in the 'right' category of "friends"??