The RBC Convention Centre isn’t hosting bustling gatherings numbering in the thousands these days thanks to COVID-19, and though that’s cost the venue big, management sees opportunity on the horizon.
“This was projected to be one of our best years on record,” convention centre president and CEO Drew Fisher said Thursday. “We know we’re going to get through this.”
The massive meeting space was expanded significantly in 2015, and had been doing record business in the two years prior to the pandemic.
The centre traditionally takes in about $18 million to $19 million in revenue annually, hosting everything from comic book conventions to cultural festivals, but Fisher estimates business is down about 75 per cent this year.
The majority of events have been cancelled due to pandemic-related concerns about distancing and the transmission of COVID-19 in big groups.
Most staff previously received temporary lay-off notices, a few vacant positions haven’t been filled, and upper management reduced their salaries by 11 per cent until the end of the year.
Convention centre management also asked the City of Winnipeg for a $7.5-million loan guarantee in June to help cover losses they feared would continue through the year.
As of June, the centre projected a $3.5 million loss if it was able to return to business in September. That prediction rose to $5-million in losses if forced to remain closed until 2021.
The centre has managed to utilize its sprawling downtown space in some unconventional ways this year.
Fisher says some businesses have hosted distanced meetings there; Manitoba Justice has held jury selections at the space; and the local film and entertainment industry has made use of the building as well.
But that hasn’t entirely made up for what’s been lost, including the annual Remembrance Day ceremony that would usually see 4,000 people in attendance but has been cancelled this year.
The same goes for the Central Canada Comic Con — it won’t be happening for the second year in a row, if not for different reasons.
“We’re really disappointed that it’s not happening this year,” Fisher told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Thursday. “It’s such an incredible consumer show and the attendees of that event are so passionate.”
On a positive note, Fisher said about 80 per cent of cancellations have already been rebooked.
“The future convention business on the books is strong,” Fisher said. “The future does look bright.”
Convention centre as homeless shelter?
In Edmonton, the city’s convention centre will operate as a homeless shelter this winter.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Thursday he would have to talk to Edmonton city officials to learn more about the plan.
But he said any sort of plan like that would have to, ideally, be done in conjunction with other social services and other levels of government.
“If hey would be open to that, we would be looking to partner and use the money that we’ve been successfully able to bring in from Ottawa to really leverage it in a way that gets governments working together to the benefit of people who need that help,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point. Just obviously, we need to see some of the details.”