Mansfield Center still low on events, revenue due to COVID; will host some jury selection

The Mansfield Center’s advisory board is anticipating another slow season in 2021.

“I don’t see us having any shows next year other than the symphony,” Owen Grubenhoff, Mansfield events manager, told the advisory board during a Sept.18 meeting.

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Grubenhoff said the Great Falls Community Concert Association is expected to cancel their season.

The Symphony’s Broadway season is off this season, Grant Harville, symphony music director, told the group.

The event center will be generating some revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic since it’s being used as a personal protective equipment distribution center, Grubenhoff said. He’s been told that they’ll hold about 100 cases of PPE, but it should fit into one atrium of the facility so events could still be held.

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The facility hosted two spay/neuter clinics with the Humane Society, one 50-person wedding and some meetings over the summer. Mansfield staff said they had calls from groups who used different venues but needed larger spaces to spread out under COVID guidelines.

The Eighth Judicial District Court has requested the Missouri Room for jury selection. They are paying the full rental rate, according to Grubenhoff.

He said the facility is doing a separate contract with the state each time they use the facility.

The district court had been using the Montana Expo Park for jury selection but got into a cost dispute with the county since the county billed the state for use of the space, while the state contends that the county is obligated to provide space under state law.

Beth McLaughlin, Supreme Court administrator, told The Electric, that the court didn’t have a contract with the county and “no agreement was in place prior to the bill so it has not been paid. We are working with the county attorney on the issue and hoping to resolve it recognizing counties are statutorily responsible for providing appropriate space for District Courts.  The state, though, given these unusual times is certainly willing to partner with any county.”

She said that the court then moved jury selection to the Hilton Garden Inn.

The lack of events is a hit to the facility’s revenues. Grubenhoff said in the second quarter of 2019, the facility generated $130,000 in revenue from events, but this year during the same time, it was $9,000.

In the spring, Grubenhoff told The Electric that 29 major events had been scheduled from March 14 through June 14.

Most of those were canceled.

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The Russel Art Auction cancellation alone was a loss of $17,000 for the city’s event budget, Grubenhoff said.

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The total loss from cancelled or postponed events was at least $65,000 for March through June, he told The Electric in late March.

Most of those events are set up and staffed by on-call employees, so if an event is canceled, they don’t work and don’t get paid, he said.

Grubenhoff said during the Sept. 18 meeting that the city typically subsidized the events fund by $250,000 annually and that theirs had been considered an at-risk fund for years. He said their budget had been showing progress and they’d been building their reserves, but the pandemic would be a significant financial hit and they’d likely ask for a larger subsidy from the general fund in next year’s budget.

Grubenhoff said he’d been in touch with the company that did the seats for the Great Falls High theater and is going to look at those and get some cost estimates from that company, which he also told the board in February.

“There’s no money available at the moment,” for the seat replacement, Grubenhoff said, and they had not yet discussed any fundraising campaigns for the project.

The seats were last restored in 1996, according to city documents. A 2013 proposal to commissioners to replace the seats had an estimated $800,000 price tag.