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Cover Story | Eventful anniversary: Town Toyota Center had a rocky start but is rolling now

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The Town Toyota Center is 10 years old this year as represented by a photo composite including fireworks taken nearby at Walla Walla Point Park.

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Editor's Note | We are fortunate to have the TTC

When I first arrived in Wenatchee, The Town Toyota Center was the talk of the town. And that talk wasn't good.

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Town Toyota Center | The numbers

Community impact

The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce reports the Town Toyota Center generates an average yearly economic impact of $6.63 million since 2011. This includes spending at hotels, restaurants and shopping.

Here’s the breakdown:

2011: $6,421,871

2012: $6,930,972

2013: $6,210,471

2014: $7,226,970

2015: $6,189,664

2016: $6,249,143

2017: $6,455,183

Upcoming events

April 2: Jordan World Circus

April 21: Wen-Con

May 11-12: GS Long’s Hell on Hooves Roughstock Rodeo

Biggest sponsors

Town Auto Group

Weinstein Beverage

Columbia Distributing

Eagle/Lifeline

iFiber One

Frontier Communications

By the numbers

10 — Number of years the Town Toyota Center has been in business. It opened its doors Oct. 5, 2008.

4 million — Number of guests who have attended functions at the TTC since it opened.

100,000 — Number of people who use the public skating rink each year, including youth hockey practice, tournaments, public ice skating, figure skaters.

4,300 — Number of spectator seats available for a Wenatchee Wild hockey game.

5,000 — Number of spectator seats available for a basketball game.

5,300 — Number of spectator seats available for a concert.

137,000 — Number of square feet at the Town Toyota Center.

$6.5 million — Number of dollars spent per year in the community by TTC visitors, including hotels, restaurants and shopping.

14 — Number of full-time employees.

140 — Number of part-time employees.

$100,000 — Monthly payroll.

$3.6 million — Annual operating budget.

4,139 — Most tickets sold, Kelly Clarkson concert, April 2012.

11,216 — Most tickets sold for single event, three-day Jurassic Quest in September 2015.

15,000 — KPQ Home & Garden show attendance.

* Sources: Town Toyota Center, Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce

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Ten years in, Town Toyota Center finds its balance 

Facility serves the region and draws visitors 

WENATCHEE — The Town Toyota Center, home to the Wenatchee Wild hockey team, community ice skating rink, a slate of garden, home and bridal shows, concerts, a rodeo and more, is doing what it was designed to do.

The building brings people here to enjoy, participate and discover this region that we all so love,” said Linda Haglund, current executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association. In 2008, she was sales director for what initially was called the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center, a facility operated under the umbrella of the Greater Wenatchee Public Facilities District, formed through an interlocal agreement by seven cities and two counties.

I believe the hope and the vision from the beginning was something not just for the community, but for the greater region,” she said.

Closing in on its 10-year anniversary — the ribbon was cut and the building officially opened Oct. 5, 2008 — those who track such things say 4 million people have since attended events in the 137,000-square-foot facility. The visitors, according to Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce statistics, spend about $6.5 million a year while they’re in town, at hotels, restaurants, shopping and more.

That’s cash flow, purely spending that happens because of the events,” said Patrick Norlin, the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce’s sports tourism and outdoor recreation coordinator.

His duties include counting attendance at ticketed events — games, tournaments and concerts — to track the TTC’s economic impact.

The acual impact is likely higher than the average, Norlin said, since he doesn’t include spending spurred by events like the home shows and the sportsman’s show, which don’t track where people are coming from.

We can only responsibly report what we can prove,” he said. “We certainly see that it boosts the local economy through locals spending as well as out of town guests. It is a place that provides our community with memorable experiences and brings people together.”

Others see the benefits as well.

It’s a good community asset. Any opportunity to bring in more tourism is a positive thing,” said Freda Stephens, general manager of the Wenatchee Coast Hotel and chairwoman of the Wenatchee Valley Tourism Promotion Area Board. “The hotel sees guests from those who come to see the Wenatchee Wild and from those who want to see a concert. It just makes Wenatchee even more of a destination, more well-rounded with lodging and tourism.”

The $53 million facility got off to a rocky start, with management and operational upheaval in its first four years. Projected revenue fell short, a problem compounded by the recession that hit not long after the doors opened. A crisis loomed when a bond payment was missed in 2012, putting the TTC in default. Voters in the cities of Cashmere, Chelan, Entiat, Waterville, East Wenatchee, Rock Island and Chelan and Douglas counties approved a 0.1-cent sales tax hike and voters in Wenatchee agreed to a 0.2-cent sales tax increase that allowed a restructuring of the $42 million in debt. The proceeds cover the annual $3.6 million payments on the refinanced construction bonds.

You’ve probably heard from lots of people by now that these kinds of arenas are not money-making propositions,” said East Wenatchee Mayor Steve Lacy. “I suspect the people who originally voted to create this building were hearing differently. But the more research I did once it got into trouble, I realized the value was not in it making money. It’s the intangible and tangible things, the economic benefit to the community and the fact that it is a meeting place.”

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz reached a similar conclusion.

People originally thought it would make money. That didn’t transpire. So you ask what’s the next best thing? That’s what we have now. Taxes are paying for the upkeep and operating costs. We are doing as many good things with it as we can,” he said. “There’s more to it than just the math.”

He referenced the homegrown ice skaters who have found success. Kaela Kapeikis skates for Disney on Ice. Her brother, Liam, 13, brought home a bronze medal from the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

You only get that because we have the facility here,” Kuntz said.

Still, both mayors would like to see more black ink than red moving forward.

I’m pleased, but not satisfied,” Lacy said. “I’m pleased we have managed to stabilize the debt financing.”

The 0.1-cent sales tax hike has been a good investment for his constituents, he said.

I don’t think anyone has been strapped because of it and in the end, we will end up with a paid-off facility, an asset that will serve us for a long time to come. In hindsight, it should have been done that way in the first place,” he said.

Lacy was instrumental in bringing together the jurisdictions to consider the sales tax increase and has served on the board since then to keep an eye on things.

It has been meeting my expectations,” he said.

He is not completely happy with the continued operating losses.

The public facilities district offsets its operating costs with a .033-cent sales tax rebate from the state, an amount that has grown to about $930,000 a year, according to Kuntz. In 2017, the center used about $600,000 of that to balance the books, he said.

The deficits covered by the additional tax revenue started out relatively modest for the operation size,” Lacy said. “Those have gotten much larger in the last couple of years. So that’s where I’m not satisfied. I think we need to make changes, if not to make money, to allow us to lessen the losses. That would be helpful.”

Even so, he said, “I think it’s a valuable asset for the valley. I’m still in support of it. That’s a big leap for me.”

He praises the work of General Manager Mark Miller, who was hired in 2009.

I think Mark Miller has done an excellent job with what he had to work with. Without him, it would have been a lot worse,” he said.

Miller has made it clear since he arrived that the TTC is no “cash cow.” 

It’s an entertainment center, a quality of life center and an economic impact center,” he said.

His focus remains on those goals, though he and the board have taken steps to close revenue gaps.

Bringing the food and beverage services in-house was a good move, in terms of quality control and revenue.

We’re actually making a little on that,” Kuntz said. “We’d like to try to keep trying to do those sorts of things.”

Sponsors continue to be supportive, which account for about one-third of the operating budget, Miller said.

The newest is iFiber, which signed on in January as a naming sponsor for the public skating rink, a three-year deal for $90,000.

The TTC also is trying to shy away from bookings that require a guaranteed payment to the performer in favor of less-risky percentage deals that might not make a lot of money, but won’t lose money.

We had a couple of shows that did not do so well and we lost money on them,” Kuntz said. “We’re trying to look at doing that differently.”

Despite the ongoing concerns, Kuntz said, the Town Toyota Center has proved its worth.

Hockey fans come from lots of different places. Last week, we had 15,000 people coming through the building for the home and garden show. We held Special Olympics there. I’m not sure where else we could do that. It’s a great regional facility,” he said.

 

Town Toyota Center timeline | 10 years of music, sports and financial chills and thrills

Spring 2004

Representatives of Global Entertainment visit Wenatchee to discuss problems with the city’s ice rink.

October 2005

City officials announce plans for an arena that would replace the Riverfront Park Ice Arena.

Global CEO Rick Kozuback states he would like to bring a hockey team to town that would act as the anchor tenant of the arena.

December 2005

Global is the lone bidder for building the arena. Global turns more than $430,000 in profit for the fiscal year 2005.

East Wenatchee votes in favor of creating a public facilities district that would help finance the arena.

March 2006

Gov. Christine Gregoire signs a bill allowing Wenatchee and nearby cities to form a special taxing district to finance the arena.

Wenatchee City Council begins the process of creating a public facilities district.

Contractor Ken Blodgett puts a construction trailer on the future site of the arena across the street from Walla Walla Point Park.

May 2006

Wenatchee hires Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting to study the arena’s revenue-generating potential.

Wenatchee, Chelan and Douglas counties vote to join the new PFD. Eventually, Cashmere, Chelan, Entiat, Waterville, East Wenatchee and Rock Island join, too.

Kozuback announces he would like to bring an arena football team to Wenatchee.

Kozuback says sponsorships of seating, naming rights and other advertising will earn $1 million annually.

Leavenworth and Chelan vote against joining the Public Facilities District.

June 2006

Artist renderings of arena revealed. Local groups express concern that they will have limited access to time on ice rink.

Chelan reverses vote not to join the PFD, leaving Leavenworth as the lone major city in the area not to be part of the district.

July 2006

At its first meeting, the PFD takes advantage of a new state tax rebate on retail sales to help pay for the facility.

August 2006

Report finds that Global has “possibly overstated” by $200,000 to $300,000 the arena’s annual revenue.

September 2006

Blodgett guarantees to finish the arena by October 2007 at a maximum cost of $44.5 million.

A groundbreaking ceremony draws nearly 200 people. Commemorative hockey pucks are given to those in attendance.

January 2007

Officials say cold weather has delayed the project for a month.

March 2007

Ken Blodgett tells the Wenatchee City Council that he cannot secure financing for the project.

The city discovers that financing costs were underestimated by about $4 million.

The city consents to a new contract with a higher price tag — $48.8 million — that makes Global Entertainment the builder.

Opening pushed back from October 2007 to August 2008.

May 2007

Global says it will cost $63 million to build the planned 5,000-seat arena.

Global presents a scaled-back arena with 700 fewer seats; cost estimated at $51 million.

Mayor Dennis Johnson casts a tie-breaking vote approving the contract to build the arena at a guaranteed maximum cost of $52.8 million.

June 2007

Sean Langer, director of the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, a Global project, hired as arena’s executive director.

Langer quits before his first day on the job, stating he is tired of being uprooted.

July 2007

City agrees to deal committing to make up difference between PFD tax revenue and what the arena actually ends up costing.

Global announces it has secured the construction loan needed to continue building the arena.

September 2007

Construction on the arena kicks into full gear. A Sept. 17, 2008 deadline is set.

Wenatchee resident Rob Cline is named general manager of the arena.

October 2007

The British Columbia Hockey League pulls out of talks to bring an amateur hockey franchise to Wenatchee.

Global announces $1.5 million loss for the first fiscal quarter of 2008.

November 2007

Global secures deal with Dallas-based North American Hockey League to bring team to Wenatchee in 2008.

Global contracts with company that stages Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus and shows featuring Disney characters.

Construction crews erect the walls of the arena.

January 2008

Global announces slightly more than a $3 million loss in revenue for the second fiscal quarter of 2008.

February 2008

Local ownership group attempting to land a hockey team receives conditional approval for a team.

March 2008

Hundreds attend “topping off” ceremony to sign a 35-foot-long steel beam installed in the arena.

Global says it will lose money for the next two quarters but says long-term prognosis of the company is good.

April 2008

Great Wenatchee Regional Events Center building is between 55 and 60 percent complete.

Proposal before PFD says local groups will pay 33 percent more for ice time that they were paying at Riverfront Ice Arena.

Global announces a loss of $31,000for the third quarter of 2008.

The Wenatchee Fire professional indoor soccer club is announced as the arena’s first tenant.

Possibility to bring in hockey team in jeopardy when lease negotiations stall between Global and local ownership group.

Disney High School Musical on Ice” is the first major event to be scheduled at the arena.

May 2008

Global announces it is seeking investors to help bring a professional indoor football team to Wenatchee in 2009.

Global announces hockey team, the Wenatchee Wild, will call the arena home in 2008.

The Wild’s ownership group, Wenatchee Sports Partners, signs a five-year lease with Global to use the arena.

June 2008

Rob Cline is promoted to general manager of the arena.

July 2008

Cline says completion of the arena could be pushed into October because “there are some things behind schedule.”

August 2008

Global announces Town Toyota Center has purchased naming rights to the arena, which is renamed Town Toyota Arena. Five days later, the building is renamed Town Toyota Center.

Wenatchee sells the Riverfront Ice Arena for $1 million.

The Wenatchee City Council agrees to loan the PFD any shortfall in making payments to buy the arena.

Global posts $4 million loss for fiscal year.

September 2008

Oct. 5 opening date set for the Town Toyota Center. Ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours set for 3 to 6 p.m.

Town Toyota announces financial details of naming rights: $200,000 for the next five years.

New arena has 200 jobs open. Job fair scheduled.

The Wenatchee Fire soccer team, set for its first game in November 2008, hires its first player: striker Brandon Hammer.

One week away from arena opening, the Wenatchee World declares in an editorial that the arena “a significant accomplishment” and “a rarity” and “a prize.”

October 2008

The recession has begun to have effects on the nationwide bond market, making it difficult for the arena to find a buyer for its $43.5 million in bonds.

On Oct. 5, around 1,500 people attend the opening of the region’s new multipurpose arena. “Welcome to your arena,” said Mayor Dennis Johnson in his ceremonial address.

The arena’s very first official event: A show of 341 quilts crafted by members of the North Central Washington Quilt Guild on Oct. 11 and 12.

The Wenatchee Wild hockey team hold its very first game at the arena before 3,677 fans. The local team lost 5-0.

November 2008

The Public Facilities District can at last buy the Town Toyota Center from Global Entertainment after a Seattle branch of Piper Jaffray & Co. agrees to purchase $43.5 million in bonds.

December 2008

Average attendance of 2,130 paid admissions at Wenatchee Wild games tops all other teams in the league. Second place was Fairbanks Ice Dogs in Alaska with 2,032 seats sold per game.

The Public Facilities District on Dec. 9 finalizes the $58.4 million purchase of the arena from Global Entertainment.

A dispute over gate receipts has the Wenatchee Fire indoor soccer leaving the arena for another venue. Meanwhile, officials with the American Indoor Football Association say a team could be on the way to Wenatchee.

January 2009

Sales linked to construction boosts taxable retail sales in the third quarter of 2008 by 3.4 percent in Chelan County (completion of the arena) and 74 percent in Douglas County (Sabey Corp. data center).

A near-sellout crowd for singer LeAnn Rimes causes a “parking fiasco” that had cars parked in snowbanks, on lawns and even across the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail.

March 2009

Rob Cline steps down as general manager of the arena after a year at the post.

April 2009

Global Entertainment, original owner of the arena, removes itself from the New York Stock Exchange. CEO Rick Kozuback cites high costs of associated with trading on the exchange.

May 2009

The arena may ask the City of Wenatchee to make up to $2.3 million in bond payments, according to a financial outlook by the city’s finance director.

Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson says the city will take over accounting and payroll duties from Global Entertainment due to their poor job in tracking money at the arena. Global is expected to exit Sept. 5 as operator of the arena.

A Wenatchee World editorial acknowledges that the arena is struggling financially and that Global’s accounting of revenues is “a disaster.” The writer stated, “Too much faith and too few tough questions” may have allowed issues to arise.

June 2009

Team owners announce that the new Wenatchee Valley Venom, a new indoor football team, will debut in spring 2010.

August 2009

Despite two national companies competing to manage the arena, the PFD decides to run Town Toyota Center itself with the help of a general manager.

September 2009

The recession continues to take its toll: City of Wenatchee’s revenues from sales and real estate taxes plummet 15 percent, threatening to deplete a key reserve fund and force financial juggling to meet an arena bond payment.

Mark Miller, 47, of Forney, Texas, is chosen to lead Town Toyota Center as general manager. He arrives with 16 years experience managing mid-sized events arenas.

January 2010

More than 1,400 cubic yards of dirt are hauled into the arena for a Bad Boys of Arenacross show, a motocross racing extravaganza.

February 2010

The Harlem Globetrotters play in Wenatchee for the first time in the team’s 84-year history.

Thousands of friends and family members of Mackenzie Cowell attend a memorial service for her at the arena. The 17-year-old woman went missing Feb. 9, and her body was found four days later near Crescent Bar.

March 2010

A survey of arena customers reveals that the sweet spot for ticket prices is in the $25-$35 range, particularly for classic rock bands. A majority of respondents said they would not pay $65 to see Bill Cosby.

A touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” is the first Broadway-style theatrical show to appear at the arena.

August 2010

Officials say most voters in Chelan and Douglas counties will be asked to decide in February 2011 if they’re willing to pay a higher sales tax to cover the $3 million annual debt service on Town Toyota Center.

December 2010

Linda Haglund, the arena’s sales director, resigns her post for a “normal job” handling accounts payable for a local company. She later became executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association.

March 2011

Spike TV’s Total Nonstop Action Wrestling is the first touring pro wrestling company to make a stop at the Town Toyota Center. Twenty wrestlers participated.

Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson, 68, announces he will not seek a fourth term. The last 10 months of his term had been shadowed by controversy over the city responsibility to cover Town Toyota Center looming debt.

The D-word — “default” — has begun to creep into conversations about Town Toyota Center’s $42 million in debt. The Public Facilities District must find a to refinance it before Dec. 1 or the city will assume payments of up to $3 million annually.

April 2011

The Wenatchee City Council approves a contingency loan agreement to underwrite much of Town Toyota Center’s $43 million in long-term bonds, a move to ease the arena’s financial problems and head-off default

May 2011

A Wenatchee World report shows that Global Entertainment, former owner and manager of Town Toyota Center, touted building multipurpose arenas in mid-sized communities across the U.S. Between 2003 and 2011, the company built 10 centers, and most were experiencing financial difficulties by 2011.

June 2011

Wenatchee City Council learns that arena debt of $3 million per year could cripple services — the city’s public pool, parks, the museum and fire departments.

November 2011

Mayoral candidate Frank Kuntz grabs a 256-vote lead to helm the city in the Nov. 8 general election.

Under $42 million in debt and considered by many to a white elephant, Town Toyota Center is hardly idle. The Wild continue to play hockey, concerts attract thousands of fans, an Hispanic rodeo draws 1,200, youth teams arrive daily to practice on the ice and public skating draws crowds.

December 2011

The arena’s debt technically goes into default on Dec. 1, but bond holders have extended the deadline to allow local officials and the state legislature to come up with a bill to rescue the arena from default.

The defaulted bonds are downgraded to the lowest investment rating, while the City of Wenatchee’s ratings fell to BBB, which indicates a weakening ability to meet financial obligations.

The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission opens an investigation into Town Toyota Center financing.

January 2012

Three plans emerge to solve the arena debt crisis, all requiring voters in the nine cities and towns involved the Public Facilities District to approve a 0.1 or 0.2 percent sales tax increase.

February 2012

The arena announces one of its biggest headliners yet — Grammy Award-winning Kelly Clarkson — will perform April 13. The show was an immediate sellout.

April 2012

Voters give a resounding thumbs-up to Proposition 1, a measure imposing a sales tax increase to rescue Town Toyota Center from $42 million in debt and a catastrophic default. Overall, the measure passes by 65 percent.

The arena announces comedy icon Bill Cosby will take the stage Oct. 20.

May 2012

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz unveils a budget-cutting plan that will lay off eight firefighters, three police officers and nearly all of the staff at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. The cuts are do to a $1.5 million shortfall resulting from shrinking tax revenues and Town Toyota Center payments.

September 2012

Bonds to pay off the arena’s nearly $42 million in defaulted debt go on sale Sept. 20. Investors snatched them up in less than 90 minutes.

November 2012

The arena will be entirely on its own financially beginning Jan. 1, 2013, for the first time since it was built, the attorney for the Public Facilities District announces. “That’s the way it should be,” said Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz.

May 2013

Wenatchee Wild announces it’s moving to Texas, where the team will become the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, after five years in Wenatchee. Arena management works to buy the Wenatchee Wild name and logo from the team’s former owners.

The arena board approves a contract to move the Fresno (California) Monsters to Wenatchee. They’ll become the new Wenatchee Wild.

July 2013

A month of indoor roller-skating comes to the arena to the delight of scores of skaters.

August 2013

Mexican superstar Joan Sebastian rides his dancing horse into the arena to the thrill of his legion of Spanish-speaking devotees.

November 2013

An investigation by the U.S. Securities & Exchange commission into Town Toyota Center’s financial debacle concludes that a top city official Allison Williams, along with the PFD and Global Entertainment, knowingly misled investors and violated federal securities laws to get them to buy into the arena.

July 2014

Country music star Trace Adkins vows to donate $5 of every ticket to his upcoming concert to the local Red Cross for wildfire relief efforts following the Carlton Complex Fire in Okanogan County.

October 2014

More than 260 skaters representing six western states compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Northwest Pacific Regionals for an opportunity to join the U.S. figure skating team. Helping organizing the event is the Wenatchee Figure Skating Club.

November 2014

The arena hits a milestone by putting money for the first time into a reserve account and receiving it first clean-slate audit in years. “This is an important day,” said Pete Fraley, the arena’s attorney.

February 2015

Special Olympics Washington celebrates 25 years of competition with opening ceremonies at Town Toyota Center followed by competitions at the arena, Mission Ridge, Leavenworth Ski Hill and basketball venues in Wenatchee and East Wenatchee.

June 2015

The Wenatchee Wild announces it will join the British Columbia Hockey League beginning with its 2015-16 season. The team had been a member of the North American Hockey League.

August 2015

Thousands of firefighters, public employees and members of the general public joined with family members in paying tribute to three firefighters who died earlier that summer in the Twisp River Fire. They were Richard Wheeler, Andrew Zajac and Thomas Zbyszewski.

November 2015

Mannheim Steamroller brings its high-energy Christmas show to the arena. A previous Wenatchee appearance in 2012 drew 3,000 fans.

May 2016

The world-renowned Budweiser Clydesdales — 6 feet tall at the shoulder — make a special appearance at the arena. The horses are harnessed in an eight-horse hitch and connected to the company’s famous beer wagon.

November 2016

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz says that arena’s debt is not the nightmare of four years earlier. The arena took in $3 million in operating revenues in 2015 with expenses of around $3.4 million. So it remains at about $400,000 in the red. “Given how close we came to disaster,” he said, “I’d say we’re doing quite well.”

April 2017

The arena hosts WEN-CON, the Wenatchee Valley’s first popular culture convention. Hundreds attend the show that features comics, books, clothing, toys, superhero gear and costumes and much more. The convention will return to the arena April 21, 2018.

January 2018

iFiber Communications, an Ephrata-based Internet service provider, buys naming rights for the Town Toyota Ice Rink — now to be known as the iFiber Rink. The company signed a three-year contract at $40,000 a year for the rights.