Boise auditorium district was down $3.1M last year, but demand may be up – way up – come fall
Boise Centre has continued to hold events with restrictions through pandemic
The Boise Centre is a venue for conferences, galas and other special events. It is one of the participants that will be at an April 27 job fair. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Despite a downturn in hotel occupancy rates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, officials with the Greater Boise Auditorium District and Pocatello-Chubbuck Auditorium District say they used reserve funds to get by and expect a boom from pent-up demand in the coming months.
Auditorium districts were established in Idaho Code in 1959 to serve the public through an auditorium or community center located in the district. An auditorium district is funded largely by a 5% tax on local lodging stays, including vacation rentals such as Airbnb.
Pat Rice, executive director of the Boise Centre, said total lodging collections for the Greater Boise Auditorium District by late 2020 were about $5.5 million, versus $8.4 million in 2019. When Ada County moved to Stage 3 under pandemic guidelines relaxing restrictions during the summer, revenues rebounded into September and October, followed by another crash.
“We were doing really well in the fall under Stage 3, but then when (Idaho) went to Stage 2 in November that pretty much shut us down,” Rice said.
The centre works closely with Central District Health to navigate any events hosted in the building, and Rice was glad when Ada County returned to Stage 3 in February. “Thank goodness we’re back to Stage 3, because we’re able to operate pretty well in Stage 3.”
Rice said the centre has continued to hold conferences and other events, including a three-day conference at the beginning of April for Iglesia Apostolica de la fe en Cristo Jesus, a religious Latino group from the Northwest. Rice said the 650 people who attended were “all distanced and following guidelines.”
The protocols for these events, he said, exceed any other venue in the area and exceed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements. He said the size of the venue allows for much more flexibility than other buildings, with 50,000 square feet and a capacity of 2,000 people. That capability has also helped organizations with fundraising, according to Rice.
“We’re the largest facility in the state, and … locally we’re the largest facility that can have these fundraisers take place, up to and including the Festival of Trees,” Rice said. “They depend on their galas to raise a lot of money, and this community is extremely generous. Without that, a lot of these organizations are struggling.”
The Boise Centre also implemented a virtual studio for conferences and other meetings to take place, and Rice said many businesses and organizations have taken advantage of that offering.
“From a revenue standpoint, the virtual studio has been the key revenue driver for us,” he said. “Not huge, but normally that revenue comes from food and beverage.”
Pocatello-Chubbuck district hotel revenues down $17,000 in 2020
Wendy Anderson, business manager for the Pocatello-Chubbuck Auditorium District, said the Mountain View Event Center shut down for seven weeks from March to May but has been open ever since.
“Our (hotel occupancy) numbers were way down for what we collected, but we have a very responsible board and we have funds saved, so it didn’t affect us too much,” Anderson said.
In fact, Anderson said some of their revenue increased because other venues in the area were closed. The center has hosted sports tournaments, state gymnastics, gun shows, and high school and junior high sports practices, among other events. She said the district is as frugal as it can be.
“We’ve just saved our money,” Anderson said. “So that saved us. We didn’t have to lay anybody off or anything, and we’ve been busy.”
Future looking bright for Boise Centre
Rice said event inquiries are starting to increase, and bookings are filling and holding for May and June. He expects demand to jump even higher by the end of the summer, as long as people continue to get vaccinated and case numbers and hospitalizations don’t increase.
“If that all comes to fruition, we’re going to have a record fall,” Rice said. “We have pent-up demand, people are not only tired of not being able to get together, there’s a necessity for fundraising and virtual just doesn’t have the same impact.”
While it’s been a rollercoaster year for the Greater Boise Auditorium District, Rice said it wasn’t the worst one on record either, and there is reason to believe the rebound will be strong.
“It’s too easy to go ‘woe is us,’” he said. “The reality is, yeah it was a horrible year, but for the most part Boise as a marketplace did better than a lot. … It could’ve been worse. The market came back as restrictions were lifted, and we’ve got a pretty bright future.”
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