COVID-19 economic woes ‘crushing’ OP Convention Center, which projects $2.8 million loss in 2020

Overland Park Convention Center projects $2.8 million loss in 2020 and $1.8 million in 2021, due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo.

The coronavirus pandemic has crushed revenues at the Overland Park Convention Center this year, with officials now expecting to end the year with only about a third of the revenue and less than half the staff they had in 2019.

“This pandemic has moved us back 20 years,” said Brett Mitchell, the center’s general manager.

The numbers now more closely resemble how the center was doing its first year of operation, he told the city council’s Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee this week.

“It has just been absolutely crushing to our industry. We hope that there is good news on the horizon.”

Projects $4.6 million loss between 2020 and 2021

The convention center budget projects a $2.8 million loss for this year, and $1.8 million for the 2021 budget, with hope for the beginnings of a turnaround in the third and fourth quarter of next year as more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, Mitchell said.

Overall, the convention center made an estimated $3.8 million in revenue this year.

By comparison, the center brought in $13.7 million in 2019 and made a profit of $846,468. But that profit does not carry forward and is instead used for capital improvement projects. The losses of this year and next will be covered by the city’s general fund.

The number of events and attendance has fallen precipitously. Last year 385,596 people attended 313 events, compared to a projected 113,923 attendees for 107 events this year.

For 2021, only 93 events are projected so far.

The subsequent loss of employees has proved the “biggest hurt,” Mitchell said. A year ago, the center had 77 full-time workers, compared with 28 for the start of 2021.

The loss of employees was made particularly bittersweet, Mitchell said, considering that the trade publication Exhibitor magazine recently chose the Overland Park Convention Center as the best in North America for customer service and on-site support.

Mitchell said the estimates for next year take into account a possible improvement late in the year due to wider distribution of a vaccine, and he was confident the staff could ramp up quickly if there is a spike in the number of events. But he said the convention center’s management will be careful not to overextend itself too quickly.

Mitchell didn’t expect convention business to be back to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023.