By Justin Weir
With the Covelli Centre coming off its best year ever financially, things are looking good for downtown Youngstown.
Covelli was able to add $234,129 to the city’s bottom line in 2014. The center reported a budget surplus of $485,234 and collected $221,485 in admission tax. This was offset by the $350,000 in principal and $122,590 in interest the city owed on the loan it took out to finance the construction of the Covelli Centre.
Kelsey Rupert, director of marketing and sales at the Covelli Centre, said this is unprecedented.
“We’ve been able to give money back to the city over the past few years, but this is the first year that we’ve given such a large amount back,” Rupert said.
In 2013, the center returned $76,912 to the city after accounting for principal in interest. In 2012, the number was $67,261. Prior to that, former Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone had considered selling the arena, as it cost the city more than it was bringing in.
John McNally, current mayor of the city of Youngstown, said it’s great news for the city’s downtown area.
“The results that they showed last year are proof that people enjoy coming to downtown Youngstown and the Covelli Centre for shows and for entertainment,” McNally said.
Rupert attributes the recent success to some operational changes and the ability to attract major artists.
“There are several key components, but one of them has definitely been taking over food and beverage in-house. In previous years it was operated by Centerplate, which was an outside third-party company. So being able to take that over internally has helped tremendously for obvious reasons; we have more control over all of that,” Rupert said.
They have also had sold-out shows featuring artists like Elton John, Rod Stewart, Darius Rucker, Hunter Hayes and Five Finger Death Punch.
“We had a monster year for shows,” Rupert said.
The mayor agreed that the wider array of entertainment options has buoyed the arena’s success.
“In the early days of the center, I think they struggled to get the consistent entertainment end of things up and running that was putting bodies in the seats. You know you started out with the indoor football, but you didn’t have a lot of concerts. You didn’t have a lot of family shows — the Disney’s and things like that. I think that’s paid off over time, and I would assume that the promoters that work in this industry now see Youngstown as a viable place for many folks to come in between shows in larger cities,” McNally said.
Rupert explained the process of continuing to attract larger artists.
“It’s actually a very intricate process, and it really boils down to relationship building but also positioning our market as a viable source of entertainment,” Rupert said. “The community supporting the building really helps us tell our story to agents and managers, and that’s kind of the first piece of the puzzle.”
Covelli intends to continue its success.
“That’s our goal. That’s always our goal, to put marquee talent in Youngstown,” Rupert said.
Building off of Success
With the demolition of the Wean United plant across the Market Street bridge from the Covelli Centre, the city has put out a request for architectural and engineering firms to submit designs for a park and amphitheater.
“We envision the amphitheater being closer to the Covelli Centre to make use of the parking that’s available there, but as you move over closer to the Market Street bridge and then over onto the old Wean United site as we get that cleaned up, I want to see what can be developed in terms of a park,” McNally said.
He envisions the park as the first step in creating a river walk that begins near Covelli and extends to the B&O Station, ultimately tying into Mill Creek Park — but he’s hoping design firms will bring something else to the table.
“I’ve been sufficiently vague about what I’d like to see because I want the more creative folks to come up with their own ideas and give us something to think about,” McNally said.
Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, said they’re excited to see the site development.
“We want to have the community around a table and working through that, so what we end up with is a good plan, well thought through, and then carried out,” Letson said.
There had been talk of using the Wean site as a parking lot, but McNally said he doesn’t see a need for more parking downtown.
“I actually think that’s just about the last thing we need more of in downtown. We have plenty of surface lots that are relatively free or open, especially in the evenings. Down along Front Street, there are two major lots near The Vindicator that don’t get used often enough. I think we have to get more comfortable with walking two or three blocks to get to places,” McNally said.
He said it was too soon to determine whether or not Covelli’s management would operate the amphitheater, but he said that would make a lot of sense.