A new path for the operation of Mayo Civic Center received a unanimous nod Monday.
The Rochester City Council agreed to start efforts to put facility operations and sales in the hands of a single nonprofit entity.
“There will be considerably more detail coming our way,” Council President Randy Staver said, noting many decisions remain to be made by the council.
Two weeks ago, council members voiced concerns about turning the operation over to a private nonprofit, citing a potential loss of oversight.
On Monday, City Administer Steve Rymer said the council will be able to choose board members for the nonprofit agency and will be able to require it to operate under the state’s established open-meeting laws. It would also be required to report regularly to the city.
“The reporting requirements, I would say, would have to be very robust and very frequent,” Rymer said.
At the same time, he said, using a nonprofit agency would reduce financial risks for the city and provide an operation that is nimble enough to respond to market trends.
The planned change was supported in a 6-0 vote Monday, with council member Ed Hruska abstaining.
From 2 to 1
Currently, city staff oversees facility operations, while sales efforts and marketing to attract conventions are conducted by Experience Rochester, the private agency formerly known as the Rochester Convention Visitors Bureau.
Efforts to switch to a single entity to oversee operations and sales will start in January with full implementation slated for 2020.
On Monday, Rymer outlined the path for turning over the work to a nonprofit agency.
While council members voiced some concerns about the nonprofit option, they ultimately noted conditions can be created to provide the oversight they desire.
“This will only be as good as the contract we write, but I see it as doable,” council member Mark Hickey said.
Council member Nick Campion said he wants assurances that oversight will be in place to avoid concerns seen with Experience Rochester, which operates on a budget provided through the lodging tax the city collects on hotel rooms.
“It has much of the markings of the existing concerns I have,” he said.
While state law requires that one-seventh of the city’s 7 percent lodging tax pay for convention and visitor bureau operations, the city doubles that amount to Experience Rochester. The funding mechanism means when the city collects more taxes on hotel rooms, the organization’s budget automatically increases.
Campion said he’d like to find a way to ensure the city has greater control of how much is spent on Civic Center-related operations from year to year.
“Ultimately, we need those dollars to show up on the budget of the city,” he said.
Rymer said it’s possible to include such details in the contract, which will be created over time with input from the council with several opportunities to weigh in and offer direction.
Ultimately, the city cannot create an new nonprofit, but it can work with an existing agency to rework it into the new authority.
Rymer said if the current Experience Rochester nonprofit is used, it would be stripped down to its legal framework and rebuilt with a new board and operating principles to meet the city’s needs,
The potential board makeup was discussed Monday, with council members suggesting the city steer away from past practices of assigning seats to representatives of specific groups, such as hospitality and hotel businesses.
Campion said he’d prefer to set basic criteria and later determine who best fits the needs.
Staver agreed. “Let’s not be too specific on the particular background of these seven seats,” he said.
Rymer said creating the new board could start as early as February, after a mission and vision statement is created for the nonprofit entity.