With more revenue, Everett’s Xfinity Arena turns toward profit

EVERETT — Revenues for Xfinity Arena are projected to start surpassing the arena’s operating costs over the next five years.

That projection, a turnaround from the arena’s money-losing past, comes with an asterisk.

The arena is owned by the Everett Public Facilities District, a taxing entity that issued $71.5 million in bonds to build the facility in 2003. Those bonds were refinanced in 2007 and as a result the city pays the district $600,000 a year to help cover its debts.

The city’s stake in the arena is also why taxpayers are likely to spend an additional $700,000 this year to pay for a new scoreboard.

That news, coming just months after taxes and fees were raised to cover a projected budget shortfall, surprised City Council members Wednesday as they were briefed on the arena’s financial health.

“We’ve always known about the debt service,” Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said. “The scoreboard, that’s a surprise. I feel very strongly that should be a line item in our budget.”

A proposal to pay for the scoreboard from last year’s general fund revenues will come before the City Council next week, Deputy Mayor Debra Bryant said.

The arena and the public facilities district have seen improving revenues in recent years as sales have risen while operating costs have been cut, said Lanie McMullin, the city’s executive director of economic development and vice president of the district’s board of directors.

McMullin argued that the arena has largely succeeded in its mission of boosting the downtown economy despite its losses, and that facilities of this sort often are not expected to run a profit.

“You must invest in amenities that by and large are not revenue-neutral,” McMullin said.

The Everett Public Facilities District includes the arena, the municipal ice rink and the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center.

The district as a whole lost more than $500,000 in 2014, once all costs are taken into account, including debt payments, capital projects and intangible items like asset depreciation that must be included on financial statements.

The arena lost $53,000 in revenue in 2014, but that was an improvement over losses of $158,000 in 2013 and $208,000 in 2012. The arena hasn’t posted an operating profit since 2010, when it made $289,000.

Compared with past years, the district is on track to have positive operating revenues of $16,000 this year, rising to $125,000 in 2016, before settling between $75,000 and $85,000 for the next three years.

The anticipated bump in revenues in 2016 can be attributed to one very large event: the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships, which returns to Xfinity Arena in April 2016. The event is expected to draw athletes and spectators from 14 different countries over a three-day period. The championships occur once every two years, but the event was last held in Everett in 2012.

One of the concerns with landing the championships again was the amount of money the organizers had to spend on video equipment in 2012, said Rick Comeau, Xfinity Arena’s general manager.

The scoreboard, which includes the arena’s entire video system, is 12 years old and starting to cause problems. Plus, its software is no longer supported by the manufacturer.

Other event organizers and promoters have similar concerns, Comeau said.

“These days people come in with the expectation that you will have some kind of high-end video equipment they can use,” Comeau said. “I want our facility to be the cutting edge where people go back to their community and say, ‘Wow, you should have seen that!’”

The scoreboard has been on the capital projects list for several years and has been postponed until now, Comeau added.

Stonecipher said the scoreboard expense “came out of left field,” and she wasn’t convinced the city and district had done everything to explore alternative sources of financing, such as a long-term lease or a tax on ticket sales.

The timing is also bad, she said, given the city’s attempt to gain control of mounting deficits in the past year.

“It’s an awkward conversation to have when the majority of council six months ago just increased taxes and fees,” she said.

“And now we find we have $700,000 sitting around just to pay for a scoreboard? It’s just the wrong message I think,” Stonecipher said.

On the revenue side, the arena is attempting to lure in a more diverse mix of events, many of which recur annually.

Everett Silvertips hockey has accounted for 26 percent of the center’s revenue over the past five years, said city treasurer Susy Haugen, with some fluctuation in attendance based on the fortunes of the team.

High-profile concerts, on the other hand, are the most volatile source of income, she said, bringing in revenues as much as $310,000 in 2010 to being a money loser in 2013.

Comeau said he is trying to bring in events with more predictable revenues, and is working to land mixed-martial arts, professional wrestling and monster truck events in addition to repeats of events such as this fall’s EnduroCross games, the Everett Home &Garden Show, and Disney on Ice, which was the top-grossing event in 2014 and likely to be so again this year.

“This year for sure it’s because we’ve got ‘Frozen’ coming,” Comeau said. “It’s been breaking sales and attendance records all across the country.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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