Casper City Council Eyes Major Seating Changes At Events Center
Casper City Council will investigate and possibly fix what is quite literally a pain in the butt: the seats at the Casper Events Center.
The fix won't be cheap especially at a time when city finances are tight, but most council members said at a work session Tuesday that doing nothing is worse.
"From day one we had a problem with knee room," Bob Hopkins said.
"We really don't want to spend money right now," Hopkins said. "I think it's important to fix this for the good of the Events Center and probably in the long term for the good of the city. We may have made a mistake, but I think we've got to bite the bullet and go with it."
In 2012, City Council mandated the number of seats -- 9,165 -- to take advantage of the building's maximum capacity, accommodate more people, and bring in more revenue for the constantly subsidized Events Center.
It didn't work.
The Event Center's new management company Spectra Venue Management has tracked public complaints, and tallied attendance and ticket sales since the new seats were installed by Hussey Seating Co., Brad Murphy told the council.
People said the seats were "very uncomfortable," "too small" and "just awful," along with vows to never attend another event.
But the bottom line, so to speak, was even worse.
For example, the popular Best of Broadway program that started in 2001 has had a loyal fan base, Murphy said.
But after the seats were installed, show sales dropped by 19 percent.
Concert attendance fared poorly, too. From 1983 to 2012, attendance averaged 3,102 per concert. Since the new seats were installed, attendance averaged 2,779 per concert, Murphy said.
The largest attendance for any concert since 2007 was Elton John with 7,592. (Spectra is bringing Elton John to Casper again on March 15.)
Since the if-we-install-the-seats-the-people-will-come strategy backfired, Spectra proposes reducing the number of seats, and changing the types of seats for greater knee and butt room to attract those who gave up on the Events Center.
Spectra also would create "premium seating areas" by removing some rows of seats and installing tables for food and drinks. Safety would be enhanced with "hairpin handrails" along the steps.
The seating modifications, safety and other changes will cost $832,796, but he estimated the increased revenues would pay for the improvements in about 4.3 years.
However, Spectra's request for funding from the city comes at a time when revenues have dropped sharply.
Chris Walsh opposes spending money for new projects, he said. But the Events Center is the city's, if not Wyoming's, premiere venue and the seating problem needs to be fixed, Walsh said.
"We have to fix this," Ray Pacheco said. "We have to take responsibility for taxpayers' dollars."
Todd Murphy agreed the problem exists, but he wanted to wait a year before the city committed any money because of the current fiscal situation.
Several council members asked Brad Murphy to set up the kinds of new seats that would be installed not only for them to try out, but also for the public to test, too.
Brad Murphy said he would be able to do that.
If council decides to proceed with the improvements, City Manager V.H. McDonald said the funding could come from reserves known as the opportunity fund.
At the end of the discussion, council members with the exceptions of Todd Murphy and Jesse Morgan gave tentative approval to Spectra's proposal.