MECA reports a 'solid' profit for fiscal 2015

The organization that runs the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park reported this week that it made a $3.1 million profit last fiscal year.

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority did not release a full financial report. A spokeswoman said its findings are still being audited.

Instead, the financial overview comes from a brief presentation before the MECA board and follow-up documentation provided to The World-Herald.

The profit figure for the fiscal year that ended in June 2015 represents a $120,000 decrease from the $3.27 million that MECA made in 2014. But the 2014 figure included $1.2 million from the City of Omaha, which purchased a parking lot from the organization.

There were 616 events at the convention center and arena in 2015, the lowest in the past five years. But the convention center set records for attendance, and the arena had more than 180,000 people show up for concerts — the second-highest figure since 2010.

"We were happy with the year," said Kristi Andersen, a MECA spokeswoman. "I don't want to say it was stellar, but it was solid."

In a presentation before the MECA board Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Lea French highlighted the $3.1 million in unadjusted profits, meaning the figure did not factor out depreciation on the value of MECA's property. It's a departure from the organization's previous reporting, which focused on profit after depreciation.

City Finance Director Steve Curtiss said the new figure is a better barometer of MECA's success. "They're trying to point themselves, I would say, in the right direction," he said.

MECA is not a direct city department but is run by a board appointed by the mayor and City Council. The nonprofit group runs the day-to-day business of the city's largest entertainment venues.

Taxpayers are paying off the debt for both venues — aided by stadium revenue, in the case of the ballpark — but the properties fund their operations on their own.

The baseball stadium reflected a net loss of $167,000 last year. MECA was responsible for $100,000 of that loss. The rest was covered by the city.

The CenturyLink Center, then, generated the brunt of the organization's profits.

The group had $28.3 million in total revenue.

That included Garth Brooks' six sold-out concerts from last May, which would account for a large percentage of the CenturyLink's total ticket sales.

"Did we benefit from six sold-out Garth Brooks shows? Absolutely," French said.

MECA's depreciation continues to increase, from $1.6 million in 2011 to $2.9 million last year.

The city owns the facilities, yet MECA has paid for some major investments over the years, he said. MECA said it funded more than $1 million in projects, including replacing acoustic panels and some kitchen equipment. The declining value of those assets lead to increasing depreciation.

Mayor Jean Stothert said there's a case to be made that profit of any kind is the wrong measuring stick for MECA. The real value, she said, comes from the financial benefit to the city from the arena, convention center and ballpark.

According to the presentation before the MECA board, events brought some $70 million to the community last year. Stothert said the impact might be even higher.

The depreciation figure highlights a hard truth about both entertainment venues: They're not getting any younger.

Stothert said she and the MECA board are working to get a handle on what it will cost to keep the facilities competitive. She's asked for a strategic plan that could include expenses such as a new roof for the CenturyLink, a new heating system or other major costs.

"That's the one thing that has kind of come out of all these discussions is the strategic plan is really what we should be focusing on, in terms of determining their success," she said.

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