Century Center

Century Center (WSBT file photo) (March 13, 2013)

It's a downtown South Bend attraction that loses about a million dollars in taxpayer money every year, according to Century Center Board of Managers President Greg Downes. But the city is another step closer to appointing new management to the center in an effort to change that.

The Board of Public Works made its recommendation of who the next Century Center manager should be Thursday morning. The Pennsylvania based company, SMG, already runs the well known McCormick Place in Chicago and the Superdome in New Orleans alongside about 60 others across the country. 

The hope is that the new company could turn things around at the Century Center and, in turn, have an even bigger impact on downtown South Bend.

In the past, city leaders haven’t been shy about their opinions when it comes to the taxpayer-supported venue.

“The bottom line is, the performance needs to hit the next level,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg told WSBT.

In February the Century Center’s Board of Managers appointed a 9 member selection committee to review proposals from three companies interested in running the building, Downes said.

“It was virtually unanimous, the selection. We went through a very detailed process involving score cards and each member of the committee scored it individually and each member came out with exactly the same rank,” Downes explained.

So what would SMG do differently from the current manager, Global Spectrum?

“An interesting thing that SMG brings to the table is the fact that they have a separate theatre division,” Downes added. “We do feel like our Bendix Theatre has been underutilized over the years and we feel that SMG might very well increase the usage overall of the “Bendix Theatre.”

SMG would manage both the day-to-day operations of Century Center and the food and beverage side, which Downes said points to 40 to 50 percent of the revenue. Right now, Centerplate manages the food and beverage side of Century Center’s operation. 

But the hope, Downes said, is to significantly reduce the estimated operating loss of $100,000 a month to “a level that’s acceptable to virtually everybody in the community, including all members of the city council.”

People who live, work and play downtown hope so too.

“I think the Century Center is a little disconnected from the main downtown corridor,” said South Bend Brew Works owner Andrew Elegante. “Because across the street, it is difficult to cross there. I have a hard time finding out what events are going on there.”

Downes said the city is looking at ways to make St. Joseph Street more pedestrian-friendly and added he believes it’s very important to focus on riverfront development – bringing more restaurants and shops near the Century Center to help make it a thriving part of downtown.

Bringing SMG on board is not a done deal. The Board of Public Safety’s recommendation approved after the recommendation from the selection committee now goes back to the Century Center Board of Managers April 17. If the majority of that board approves it the city will begin negotiations with SMG to finalize a contract.