About 157,000 fewer people visited Grand River Center in Dubuque in 2020 than during the previous year, while the estimated economic impact from out-of-town guests at the facility also fell by nearly $7.8 million.
The details of the center’s performance were presented to City Council members this week, revealing significant declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t need charts and graphs to know our 2020 outcome was down,” said General Manager Mitzi Yordy.
In total, the center hosted 141 events in 2020, compared to 775 in 2019; brought in 44,074 guests, compared to 201,228 guests in 2019; and created $1.9 million in economic impact from out-of-town guests, compared to $9.7 million in 2019.
Platinum Hospitality Group, the company hired by the city to manage Grand River Center, operated with a net loss of $250,000 after taking into account stimulus funding from the Payroll Protection Program. None of those losses ended up being incurred by the city, which is responsible for the maintenance and capital improvements of the facility, along with paying for half of electric and gas utility costs.
Yordy said it likely will take some time for the center to rebound to the attendance numbers it was seeing in 2019.
“Corporate groups are hesitant to book right now,” she said. “There are people who still aren’t feeling very comfortable with attending public events.”
Grand River Center staff currently project the center will host 346 events in 2021, with Platinum Hospitality Group aiming to reduce its net loss for 2021 to $125,000.
Yordy said she expects the center will not see the level of pre-pandemic event bookings again until 2023.
While the city will not lose funds directly from the center’s decline in performance, it will see declines in sales and hotel/motel tax revenues generated by out-of-town guests that come for Grand River Center events.
“All of our hotels and motels have seen declines due to COVID, and part of that comes from the Grand River Center,” said Marie Ware, leisure services manager for the city.
Keith Rahe, president and CEO of Travel Dubuque, noted that the Grand River Center is a major economic asset in typical years.
“The trickle-down effect is something that all the downtown properties benefit from,” Rahe said.
To compensate for the projected continued underperformance of events, Yordy said center staff intend to experiment with unique promotions and initiatives as a way to draw in additional revenue, along with utilizing energy savings practices to reduce utility costs. She added that she remains hopeful for the Grand River Center’s eventual recovery.
“I am crossing every finger,” Yordy said.