Decision nears on contract for Albany Civic Center, Municipal Auditorium management company

Mar. 11—ALBANY — The choice is whether it's five years or 10 years, but it's not a question before a sentencing judge. The dilemma is one faced by the city of Albany on the renewal of a contract for a company that manages city entertainment venues.

With the five-year renewal of the initial five-year contract coming up, the Oak View Group is requesting the longer contract and promising to make a bigger investment with the extended time.

In its proposal, the company, which manages the Albany Civic Center, Albany Municipal Auditorium and Veterans Park Amphitheatre, said it has outlined a $350,000 capital investment that would be amortized over 10 years.

During a February work session, one comment made by an Albany commissioner was that artists brought to Albany usually are relatively unknown or artists that may be past their prime.

However, City Commissioner Chad Warbington said that Albany compares well with venues of similar size.

"I think everybody is happy with Spectra," Warbington said, referring to the company that was recently purchased by the Oak View Group. "They've done a great job, especially since they've come on board. They've brought some great shows to town.

"We would never be able to get the shows they get with their connections."

The company manages similar-sized venues in Augusta and Macon, and that opens up the opportunity to book entertainment acts at multiple sites, including Albany, when acts are touring the state, the commissioner said. In addition to improving the quality of shows, it also has saved the city money.

"They're really able to get economies of scale," Warbington said. "While the city still has to subsidize it, it's much less than when we were involved."

During the February work session, the commission discussed covering the topic at a commission retreat later that week. That discussion did not happen at the retreat, so the issue likely will be covered during a work session this month ahead of a vote.

"I don't have a problem with a 10-year contract," Warbington said. "They've proven they're good at what they do. There is an incentive. If we're willing to give them a (longer) contract, they're willing to do more, and they would do it early."

Mayor Bo Dorough also said he has no problems with the company's performance.

He pointed to some of the artists who have graced the stages, from Willie Nelson in 2008 to more recent acts including a Journey tribute band and a scheduled REO Speedwagon show.

"I think some of the events are not very well-attended," Dorough said. "I think that's not their fault. George Thorogood came to town and only 300 people showed up. Some events are well-attended. Travis Tritt was sold out. The Journey tribute band had a pretty good turnout.

"They're bringing the events. They're bringing the acts to the venues, and it's up to the community to come out and take advantage. That's one thing we were not able to do when we were operating the Civic Center."

With a five-year extension, the company's pledged investment would be less, at $250,000, the mayor said. However, the city does have sales tax funds earmarked for improvements of the facilities.

"I think a couple of commissioners were receptive to the 10 years," Dorough said. "I personally am not. The original contract called for a five-year extension, and I think that's the prudent thing to do. Ten years is a long time."