The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 18th

Smith Center In Red for 13th Straight Year

The Smith Center has endured another year in the red, with the sports and entertainment venue falling nearly $1 million short of breaking even in the 1999-2000 fiscal year.

The Smith Center cost the University about $1.4 million to operate last year, but the amount is being audited, said Martina Ballen, director of business and finance for the center.

Angie Bitting, managing director of the Smith Center, said that since its opening on Jan. 17, 1986, the arena has consistently been unable to cover all of its costs, let alone make a profit.

"Since we've been open, we've had one year of profit - in the first year," she said.

Ballen stressed that the monetary losses were not a surprise to those who had been involved in the arena's business practices.

"It didn't just happen," Ballen said. "This is nothing unusual. It's been losing money for years. It goes back to when Walnut Creek was built."

The Smith Center has a variety of obstacles to overcome in its competition with surrounding venues such as Alltel Pavilion, formerly known as Hardee's Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, and the 1-year-old Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh.

Bitting said the lack of parking is a disadvantage for the arena. Many people need to use shuttles to and from parking areas.

Alcohol is not permitted in the Smith Center due to its location on the UNC campus, which also detracts from revenue.

The amount of money that the Department of Athletics had to spend this year to cover the cost of running - about $989,000 - was up one-third from the amount needed in the 1998-1999 fiscal year.

Bitting said there was no consistent trend toward increased losses for the Smith Center. The revenue the center takes in is directly tied to the touring schedules of the acts that the Smith Center wants.

"A lot of it depends on who's touring and where," Bitting said. "(The revenue) rises and falls with the touring schedule."

The Smith Center has proven to be a successful stage for groups and artists who have a large college fan base. Bitting said the attendance at the recent Barenaked Ladies concert indicated that UNC students eagerly support the groups they like.

"We did better (in ticket sales) than Atlanta," Bitting said. "That show proved this is a good market to groups in the college market."

But in its attempts to serve the community as a whole, the Smith Center has sometimes been far less successful. The five Sesame Street Live productions garnered a lukewarm response from the Chapel Hill area last year.

Although there are no sweeping changes planned to increase revenue for the Smith Center in the new fiscal year, Bitting said they are always open to new ways to make money.

Bitting said that although sponsorship had been discussed as an option, it would go against the Smith Center's traditions. "We're always looking at new ideas for revenue," she said. "Sponsorship is something we've looked at but never done."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.


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