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City preparing convention center for reopening

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The city of Roswell is hiring senior staff for the Roswell Convention Center, 912 N. Main St., as it eyes a soft opening in November for the facility. The city will manage the center’s operations itself rather than outsource the management. (Daily Record File Photo)

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The city is preparing to reopen the Roswell Convention Center for events this fall, taking on the management of the facility itself rather than contracting with a third party.

When city officials first publicly discussed reopening the convention center in May, they said they wanted to wait until hotel occupancy rates had stabilized at about 75%. The convention center is funded by the 5% lodgers’ tax and a convention center fee of $2.50 per hotel room per day, and at 75% generates enough revenue to operate the convention center, City Manager Joe Neeb said in May.

Hotel occupancy in July, which included the UFO Festival, hit 62.2%, Juanita Jennings, public affairs director for the city, said.

“We had not been that high since pre-COVID,” Jennings said.

Occupancy averaged about 47% in 2020, which did not provide enough revenue for the convention center’s operations.

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However, the city has received the first half of its $11.7 million allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and city staff has recommended that $2 million be used to assist tourism-related expenses, including making up for the convention center’s lost revenue and grants to hotels to help increase occupancy rates.

The center was closed to public events in April and the city terminated its $8,000-a-month contract with Spectra Venue Management to operate the convention center. A report from Spectra in February of this year showed that between March and December 2020, 42 events at the convention center were canceled or postponed at a loss of more than $244,000 in revenue.

The Pennsylvania-based company had managed the convention center since 2018, while the facility was undergoing a $6.3 million renovation and expansion.

In May, city officials outlined a plan that would have the convention center under in-house management for about a year and then evaluating if it wants to seek an outside management company. Jennings said that will be discussed at some point by city administrators and the Roswell City Council, but she’s confident that the local management might be a good model.

“I think we’ve built a good foundational model and I’m confident that our locals can really operate that facility with a high quality of excellent customer service,” she said.

Three weeks ago, the city hired a facility operations manager, David Reed, for the convention center, Jennings said. Reed has a background in facility operations for the New Mexico Department of Corrections.

“He has a lot of experience managing buildings, and that’s a good thing for the facility here,” she said.

Reed has been working to to ensure the kitchen is clean and equipment such as vent hoods and fire extinguishers are up to code and have been inspected as well as going through inventory.

Other work to prepare the convention center includes the building’s computer and communications network, Jennings said. The prior equipment was run off Spectra’s network and servers.

“Our IT team, they’ve been out there this week working on getting the computers set up, getting the phones back on,” Jennings said.

An offer has been made to a candidate for the chef’s position, Jennings said, and the city hopes to fill the final position in the convention center’s senior leadership, a sales manager, by Nov. 1.

Once those positions are filled, the city will begin hiring for the second tier of employees — those who set up and tear down events and servers, she said.

“Our goal is to have a soft opening in November and December, so guests under 120, 150 people. Then in January, once we get some additional staffing, like the support staff, then we’ll open back up to the larger type of events,” she said.

“Anything larger than 120 people, we have to be fully staffed. These next three months, that’s our goal is to hire the servers, the banquet captains. We’ve got to hire the kitchen help, housekeeping, those kinds of things,” she said.

The city is now taking information from those interested in renting space in the convention center.

“We have lots of interest, which is really exciting. I think people are ready to get back and start having events again,” she said.

A rental reservation inquiry form for the convention center is available on the city’s website, www.roswell-nm.gov and Jennings said the staff will address those based on when they are submitted.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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