GWCC to break even for fiscal 2011

But agency won't be as lucky next year, leaders say

Despite continued struggles in the convention business and dire predictions of financial losses a year ago, the Georgia World Congress Center, one of the city’s biggest economic drivers, anticipates breaking even this fiscal year, leaders of the behemoth downtown meeting structure said Tuesday.

The nation’s fourth largest convention facility, which had expected to lose money in fiscal 2011 (which ends June 30), performed better than expected because of strong food and beverage sales and a huge turnout for Wrestlemania, which filled the Georgia Dome and the convention center with fans of the bombastic sport.

But there are storm clouds ahead. Leadership of the GWCC Authority, which oversees operations of the convention facility as well as the Dome and Centennial Olympic Park, said it expects the convention center to lose $4.1 million in fiscal 2012. The reason: meetings will use less exhibit space -- one of the biggest generators of revenue -- and attendance at conventions is expected to be smaller than the previous year.

The organization, hoping to pump new revenue into Centennial Olympic Park, is planning a benefit concert in May 2012 for the downtown greenspace. The park has struggled this fiscal year after losing big events to other meeting spaces and its Googie Burger concept failed to meet expectations.

"It will go to free community-based additional programming and to enhance programming already in place," Mark Geiger, spokesman for the GWCCA, said of the concert.

The financial outlook at the convention center, unveiled at the GWCCA's monthly meeting Tuesday, showed a mixture of rising expenses and falling revenue. Catering revenue is expected to fall $1.04 million; exhibit hall rental expected to be down $1.1 million; and utility service -- the money conventions pay the GWCC for power -- will decrease $1.8 million.

Expenses, however, will rise $712,000, including a 3 percent raise for employees.

The Georgia Dome is expected to fare much better, with or without the Atlanta Falcons as its lead tenant. In an effort to assess the impact of the Falcons, the GWCCA released a fiscal 2012 Dome budget that shows a profit of $14.3 million with the team playing at the Dome and $8.2 million if the team were to play somewhere else.

The Falcons and the GWCCA are in negotiations about the team's future. The parties are considering the construction of a new stadium at the GWCCA's marshaling field a few blocks from the Dome, or to expand the Dome. If they choose a new stadium, the Falcons could play there as early as 2017.

The Dome's other tenants include the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The building often hosts or has hosted the SEC football championship, NCAA men's Final Four and SEC and ACC basketball championships.