Galleria looking for financial turnaround in 2021

Chart Riggall, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 24—CUMBERLAND — With most in-person events still suspended across Georgia, the Cobb Galleria is still struggling mightily to turn around its finances. But the latter half of 2021 may offer chances for the convention center to get back on track.

That was the message of Wednesday's meeting of the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, owner-operator of the Galleria, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, the ArtsBridge Foundation and the Galleria Specialty Shops.

From October 2020 through February 2021, the Galleria sustained an operating loss of over $700,000, according to Rob Turner, Exhibit Hall Authority CFO. Throughout fiscal 2020, running from September 2019 through September 2020, that loss was over $1.5 million.

Turner highlighted the pandemic's impact in a sidebar to his presentation, noting that in the five-month period from late 2020 through early 2021, the convention center hosted just 23 events, compared to 184 during the same period last year. Aside from the drop in event bookings, the Exhibit Hall Authority has also suffered from a 48% decline in receipts from the county's hotel-motel and liquor-by-the-drink taxes, of which it gets a cut.

But the Exhibit Hall Authority hopes brighter days are ahead. The ArtsBridge Foundation was recently approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan of nearly $60,000, and the Exhibit Hall Authority plans to request funds through the federal government's Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which opens applications on April 8.

The marquee event for the Cumberland area is set to be the 2021 MLB All-Star Game, hosted at Truist Park with satellite events at the Galleria and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.

"I think everyone you come into contact with is really excited at what this is going to do for us as a community," said Lynn Flanders, the authority's assistant general manager.

The Galleria itself will play host to a fan festival featuring shopping and player autographs. MLB has told the authority "they expect to have a full house here in Cobb County," Flanders added, with between 100,000 and 140,000 fans in attendance.

Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who sits on the authority's board, raised the question of whether MLB will be paying for the cost of renting the Galleria. Michele Swann, Exhibit Hall Authority general manager, said the cost will be covered by Cobb County instead.

An inquiry with the county showed that in December, the Board of Commissioners authorized a $300,000 transfer of cash from the Cumberland Special Service District I fund to Cobb Travel and Tourism, $250,000 of which will be used to pay for the cost of renting the Galleria — in effect, a county subsidy of MLB's use of the facility.

Meanwhile, the Exhibit Hall Authority is hosting several other events to "bring in whatever revenue we can to get by," as Authority Chairman Jerry Nix put it. Those include the Southeast Flooring Market Trade Show, which the Galleria hosted on March 11 and 12, and outdoor performances by the Atlanta Opera at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.