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November 7, 2013

University seeks solution for struggling Wolstein Center

By Mara Biggs

Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center is in hot water financially, but the university remains optimistic about its future as possible solutions for the fiscal issue are now being discussed.

The Wolstein Center’s latest year-end financial report showed a $1 million loss.

The facility has struggled as a wide-range entertainment venue since it opened in 1991, having tough competitors Quicken Loans Arena and PlayhouseSquare in such close proximity. The 13,000-seat venue is too small for most acts that book at Quicken Loans Arena. And it’s too large for those that book at PlayhouseSquare.

Additionally, Quicken Loans is willing to close off parts of the building for performers who don’t expect to fill the 20,000-seat arena and guarantees payment in advance of the show, which the university won’t do to prevent financial losses. And, as Cleveland State’s vice president for business affairs and finances Stephanie McHenry said, most artists simply prefer the Q even if it won’t fill up.

Several years ago, Cleveland State hired Global Spectrum and Nelligan Sports Marketing to manage and promote the Wolstein Center and its events, but the firms have not brought an increase in revenue.

The Board of Trustees has since been talking of pulling the Wolstein Center out of the entertainment business and shifting focus to events core to the university. This includes basketball, commencement for Cleveland State students and high school commencements, to reduce staff and save money. Trustee David Gunning even proposed tearing the Wolstein Center down, but this is currently improbable.

Athletic Director John Parry said he thinks leaving the entertainment industry and focusing on university-related events makes a lot of sense for Cleveland State. According to Parry, Nelligan Sports will no longer be working to promote the Wolstein Center, and will instead solely promote Cleveland State sports. Parry said the university has had a lot of problems with the general managers of Nelligan Sports, but he feels the right manager is in place now.

Parry also said he thinks the Wolstein Center’s options are only positive for the university, and that he’s sure Cleveland State will move forward with a good plan.
Global Spectrum General Manager Matt Herpich said he was given guidance that questions regarding the Wolstein Center’s financial situation should be answered by Cleveland State’s Department of Marketing.

Marketing Director Joe Mosbrook said he thinks Global Spectrum has done what the university asked them to do for the Wolstein Center, and that the Wolstein Center’s awkward size is the biggest reason for its financial losses. He said that the university is investigating what other venues of a comparable size are doing to help choose a good course of action.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on the best path until we’ve done our homework,” said Mosbrook.

Though Mosbrook in uncertain what direction to take at the moment, he suggested that he doesn’t feel the university needs to abort the entertainment industry. “I think the market is out there,” said Mosbrook. “It’s just a matter of finding it and marketing it correctly.”

It would seem the right market for the Wolstein Center has never exactly been found, given its struggle to compete with other venues since its beginning. The university may have to get very crafty in finding ways to make the facility more useful and profitable.

As Mosbrook said, “Perhaps the answer is something that has not been explored yet.”