The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday December 6th

Smith Center to Operate in Red

Venue has turned a profit once in 17 years

Rising competition from other concert venues and a lack of revenue from non-basketball events have kept the center in the red for years, officials say.

"We've cut everywhere we can, but it is a very expensive building to run," said Angie Bitting, the Smith Center's managing director. It has been reported that total operating expenses for the last fiscal year totaled more than $1.3 million while total revenue was less than $500,000.

State funds generally cover most of the losses, but last year some of the money came from the budget of the Department of Athletics, Bitting said. She added that the Smith Center has only made a profit once, in 1988, since opening 17 years ago.

"There is a portion (of the deficit) the athletic department pays, and there is a portion the state pays," Bitting said.

"We know we are going to lose money every year," she said. "We budget to operate at a loss."

Steve Kirschner, associate athletic director for communications, said the Smith Center will receive nearly $1 million in state funding this year despite earlier fears that the state budget deficit would cause the money to be withheld.

When the Smith Center opened in 1986, the state promised to help fund it if it would serve as a facility benefiting the entire state, Kirschner said. Some of the events the center holds for the public's benefit include blood drives, job fairs, the state high school basketball tournament and UNC's winter Commencement and fall convocation.

But these public service events do not raise sufficient funds to run the Smith Center, Kirschner said.

The center used to hold concerts to bring in money, but the interest from concert promoters has waned in recent years. Concerts were once a main source of revenue for the center, but competition with local venues has cut down on the Smith Center's opportunities.

"We had great concert success here in the late '80s and early '90s," Kirschner said. "It is a great building for fans to watch a concert in because you're right on top of things."

Local venues, such as the Royal Bank of Canada Center and Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, as well as the Greensboro Coliseum, offer concert promoters convenient highway access, a wide range of concessions and alcohol and parking revenue, Bitting said. She added that when the Smith Center was built, these locations were not viable competition but said all have been built or modernized recently.

"All the promoters and acts are looking for the best deal they can get," Bitting said. "There are things the other arenas can offer that we can't."

The loading and unloading areas and parking lots at the RBC Center are a main draw, said David Olsen, the center's vice president and general manager. He said that although the Smith Center is ideal for UNC basketball games, it has not been updated to provide a good venue for today's concerts.

"Our building, by design, is a lot more user-friendly than the Smith Center," Olsen said. "I don't know when the Smith Center was opened, but now we are state-of-the-art for concerts."

Renovations such as a new practice court for the basketball team, which would free up the main arena on more dates, could increase the Smith Center's appeal as a concert venue but might not be enough, Kirschner said.

There might not be a way to attract concerts to the Smith Center in the near future because of competing venues and the center's drawbacks, Kirschner said. The center's last concert was an October 2000 performance by the Barenaked Ladies.

"The acts that come here don't put 20,000 people in the seats," he said. "If they did, they would go to Raleigh."

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

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


Comments

The Daily Tar Heel's 2022 Year in Review

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive