With a potential Spectra takeover looming, the fate of the RiverPark Center remains unclear. Lack of transparency from the board, who has final say on hiring a third party management company at the RiverPark, has left employees unsure about their future at the performing arts center.
According to Haley Strong, assistant technical director at the RiverPark Center, the staff is expecting the worst.
“I have been told that I will lose my job Jan. 31,” Strong said of rumors circulating around the RiverPark Center office. “Nobody has officially told us anything and we don’t know when we will know.”
Strong said the RiverPark Center board spoke to the staff a year ago about looking at letters of intent for a third party management company, but the staff has not heard anything since. It wasn’t until a Spectra job posting for the RiverPark Center surfaced that they believed a potential takeover could happen.
“We have a lot of fear and worry about the future,” Strong said because the only details they have about their future at RiverPark are based on speculation.
“We have heard that Spectra would restructure and protect people with retirement plans, but within a year the entire staff would be replaced,” Strong said. “We heard that there will be potential to reapply, but are unsure if it would be for the same position, salary or benefits.”
Owensboro Times reached RiverPark Center Executive Director Roxi Witt, who declined to comment on the climate of RiverPark Center staff or a potential board vote regarding a Spectra contract.
Rick Hobgood, a member of the board and past chair, confirmed that the RiverPark Center board does have a closed session meeting Monday, but said he is unaware of a scheduled vote. He also confirmed that the board did previously vote against making the discussion public of a potential venue management company taking over the performing arts center.
According to Hobgood, board members who discuss closed session information are “breaching fiduciary rules” after that privacy vote.
Owensboro Times reached Spectra Venue Management, who said they preferred not to comment and referred questions to be directed to board chair Jeff Ebelhar, who declined to comment on the timeline of a potential vote.
“We hope to have a public announcement sometime soon, but this will be a board decision however we decide to proceed,” Ebelhar said.
Board member Jeff Danhauer said many of the RiverPark Center staff have relayed their concerns to him and other board members about working for Spectra.
“They said the number of employee turnovers at the convention center is worrisome,” Danhauer said.
Spectra began venue management proposals with the city in 2011 when it bid on the convention center. Spectra ultimately secured the contract and opened the city-owned facility in January 2014. Since then, the city has subsidized the company annually.
According to City Manager Nate Pagan, the city of Owensboro paid a total of $465,829 to Spectra in the last fiscal year. That total is a $147,626 Spectra management fee and a $170,577 subsidy, which Pagan said covers the expenses Spectra is unable to meet with the revenue they make from rentals. Pagan said the subsidy was below the budgeted subsidy of $184,282.
In addition to this, the city paid $147,626 in incentives to Spectra, the maximum allowable amount, after Spectra met goals for food and beverage sales, room rentals and maintenance and appearance of the facility.
The money paid to Spectra is included in the city’s budget for the convention center. According to the 2018 financial report, the city took a $963,596 loss on the convention center. Pagan said line items in that budget cover insurance for the building and a depreciation account to set money aside for future repairs.
Teresa Thomas, executive director of Friday After 5, said the free concert series has a positive relationship with both RiverPark Center and Owensboro Convention Center.
“We trust that the RiverPark Center board will make their decision based on what is best for the facility,” Thomas said.
Thomas has already signed a 2019 contract with both establishments and she is under the understanding that Spectra will honor her RiverPark Center contract.
“Our partnerships with Owensboro Convention Center and the RiverPark Center are about the same, so we don’t foresee it to be a concern,” Thomas said.
Emily Malone, executive director of Encore! Musicals, does not have the same confidence in a third party management takeover. Malone said she is worried about the fate of the venue and has a lot of questions concerning a potential partnership between Encore! Musicals and a Spectra-managed RiverPark Center.
“Will we even be able to afford the RiverPark? Will we even want to work with them?” Malone asked, saying potential cost increases are a major concern. If Encore! is required to pay more to rent the facility under Spectra management, Malone said it will take money away from what they produce on the stage.
“Our shows will suffer,” Malone said.
What is most concerning to Malone is the lack of transparency by the RiverPark Center board regarding the Spectra discussions.
“There has just been a shady level of quietness,” Malone said regarding the potential board vote. “It certainly raises red flags. It just doesn’t seem above board.”
Malone believes if Spectra takes over the RiverPark Center, they will have a monopoly on Owensboro entertainment venues given the Philadelphia based company currently manages the Owensboro Convention Center and the Owensboro Sportscenter.
Glen and Jackie Snow are regular volunteers, financial contributors and season ticket holders at RiverPark Center. The Snows said the 90 or more volunteers have been kept in the dark by the board regarding Spectra discussions.
“From a business standpoint, it may be the best decision,” Glen said. “But the way they have gone about it and the lack of transparency is unsettling.”
Glen said he worries that if volunteers don’t like the change, they may quit dedicating time to the performing arts center.
“Will we still have the warm and fuzzy feeling we have toward RiverPark Center after a third party management company takes over?” Glen questioned.
And Jackie said she is unsure if Spectra would still even want volunteers should the company take over the center.
“I don’t think they could afford to pay for all that we do, but it’s so up in the air,” Jackie said.
For Strong, who continues to report to work despite the unknown future of her job, the lack of communication has been a detriment to her morale. Set to host a full week of educational workshops for local students next week, Strong said she worries when she has to tell students and teachers she is unsure if she or they will be there for their annual visit next year.
“I have to face that with a smile,” Strong said, “because I don’t know what’s happening.”