The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board of Managers talked turkey May 28 about how drastically the COVID-19 pandemic has hit its operations, schedule and pocketbook.
Early on in the pandemic — at the beginning of March — the Grand Wayne Convention Center was already crafting new rules to help weather the coronavirus storm: Public access to the building was suspended; staff travel was curtailed; events began to be rescheduled, postponed and canceled as necessary; several of the center’s staff were furloughed; and many full-time workers took 10% pay cuts.
In 2020, 104 events at the Grand Wayne Center were canceled because of the pandemic, the board heard May 28, with about 90 more events scheduled for the remainder of this year. Typically, the venue hosts about 650 occasions a year. This year, that number plunged to 123.
“We’re looking at a 60% reduction in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019,” Grand Wayne Center Executive Director Bart Shaw told the board.
As for the change in operations, all staff are now required to wear face masks while at work, and the staff had to have their temperatures taken each day to make sure they were safe to be there.
Regular meetings were moved to larger rooms so groups could maintain proper social distances. Plastic shields were installed at the welcome desk in the center lobby. And in the bathrooms, every other sink and urinal was taped off to ensure proper separation.
All touch pads in the building were removed to keep people from swapping germs. Building staff were all issued their own personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, as well.
The center also was able to obtain a disinfectant fogger that can be used to quickly purify bigger rooms, and an app for computer tablets that uses the device’s camera to read the temperatures of people in its line of sight.
Social distancing among employees and the public began to be encouraged within the confines of the Grand Wayne, as signs on nearly every wall and corner of the center tell visitors to keep at least 6 feet away from others.
On May 28, the board also voted to move ahead with the planned purchase of the so-called “fast food block” in downtown Fort Wayne. The land, which is roughly bordered by Jefferson Boulevard and Webster Street, is home to several fast-food restaurants, including King Gyros, Rally’s and Taco Bell.
The property currently is owned by local resident George Huber, and the price tag for the parcel is $6 million, according to Shaw.
Board members noted that Huber has a few months to provide notice of closing on the sale, most likely until December of this year or early 2021.
What will happen to the land remains up in the air, Shaw said. “There are no immediate plans for that space. Right now, it’s just about land control and planning for the long-term.”
The CIB, which oversees the Grand Wayne Center, is comprised of three members appointed by Allen County Commissioners, three members appointed by the Fort Wayne mayor, and a president that group elects from outside its members. The current president is Jim Cook.
The assembly is charged with directing the disbursement of the Allen County Supplemental Food and Beverage Tax funds, as well as overseeing the Grand Wayne’s operations.
The group meets every fourth Thursday of the month at 9 a.m. inside the Grand Wayne Center, 120 E. Jefferson Blvd., Fort Wayne.
For 2021, however, news for the Grand Wayne is looking somewhat brighter. Twenty-eight conferences will be carried over from this year, and 32 new conferences have inquired about holding their meetings there. “Sixty conferences would be a record for the Grand Wayne Center,” board member Lisa Starks said.
“The stats aren’t beautiful,” Starks said, “but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
In other action on May 28, the board:
Noted that numerous Grand Wayne Center staff have attended webinars to learn how to best respond to concerns over the current coronavirus pandemic.
Noted that CIB officials may be meeting with representatives from Electric Works in the coming weeks to discuss possible joint developments. The $200 million-plus project will revitalize the former General Electric complex on Broadway.