published Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Tivoli, Memorial changes weighed


by Cliff Hightower
Memorial Auditorium tile
Memorial Auditorium tile
Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

* $21 million: Estimated value of Memorial Auditorium

* $3 million: Total auditorium box office revenue last year

* $800,000: Auditorium box office revenue that went to the city

Source: Chattanooga

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Should Memorial Auditorium and the Tivoli Theatre be sold?

Something needs to be done to stem losses at the city-owned Memorial Auditorium and Tivoli Theatre, some Chattanooga City Council members said Wednesday.

But talk leaned more toward contracting with a manager who could make the facilities profitable rather than selling them.

"I think we ought to look at the possibility of hiring a private management firm," Councilman Jerry Mitchell said.

On Tuesday, the council deferred for a week a $353,000 resolution for a new roof on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. The city has budgeted $785,000 this year for restorations at the auditorium.

City officials have admitted for years that Memorial Auditorium and the Tivoli Theatre cost more to operate than they generate from events.

The operating budget for the facilities is $1.7 million this year, up from $1.4 million five years ago. But Memorial box office sales generated just more than $800,000 in revenue for the city last year. Tivoli Theatre revenues couldn't be determined Wednesday afternoon.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Berke, said the administration is looking into the cost and benefits of all city assets and will develop a plan.

Councilman Chip Henderson said the choices are pretty clear for the two city-owned buildings -- sell them, keep them under city management or find someone who can run them.

Henderson said the council and administration should discuss solutions.

"My initial default is why does the city have to be in the venue business?" he said.

Councilman Larry Grohn said handing the facilities over to a private manager with a profit motive might be a better way to generate revenue.

But he does not favor selling the venues, especially the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, which he said is the city's way of honoring military veterans.

"Right now, I don't see a scenario where it should be sold," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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