By: Rowynn Ricks
As 2012 draws to a close, the Woodward Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) board took time during their monthly meeting Thursday to reflect upon what the year has meant for the Woodward Conference Center.
By the end of the year, CVB Executive Director Jim Curtis said the conference center will have played host to some 14,000 guests.
Those guests are attendees of the 147 different events that have been scheduled at the center since it opened in March, he said.
Curtiss said his staff and city leaders have been overwhelmed by the excitement and reception of the conference center in its first 9 months.
He and Tourism Director Debbie Hickman said the almost 150 events held in 2012 far exceeded their expectations of maybe 18 to 25 events in the first year.
“When we were getting ready for the conference center to open, we sat down and calculated how many events we thought we could have the first year. We set goals for several different levels,” Curtis said.
Hickman added, “We had levels for good, great, awesome, and mind-blowing. And we just blew away our mind-blowing goal.”
“Nobody expected us to fill the conference center in the first year, but we have,” Curtis said.
However, the sheer volume of events hasn’t been the only surprise faced by the CVB within these first few months at the conference center.
There have also been a number of unexpected expenses, which have already put the CVB over budget in some areas.
They a water softening system, 100 additional chairs for the banquet hall, 100 additional chairs for the meeting rooms, a pallet jack, a third projection system for the banquet hall, a light dimming system for the banquet hall, and a 15-foot Christmas tree and other holiday decorations, among other items.
But these unforeseen expenditures don’t seem to overly concern either the CVB staff or CVB board members.
As business owners and/or leaders themselves, the CVB board members at Thursday’s meeting said they understand that opening a new facility always comes with unexpected costs.
“When you build something from scratch, you estimate costs and try to do the best you can, but you always have things come up that you didn’t know about,” Hughes said.
He also noted that being over budget isn’t something that will continue to be acceptable.
“If a year from now we’re having the same problem, I’d be concerned,” Hughes said. “But this is a building year, a year for us to develop data and see where we go from here. Of course we will have to make adjustments. And next year if we have the same discussion, then maybe we didn’t adjust properly.”
In addition, Curtiss clarified that while expenditures are over budget, “we are under spending revenues.”
In addition to hotel and motel tax collections, which remain steady, Curtis said, “the conference center itself is generating $10,000 to $12,000 a month in revenues from the events that are held here.”
“As of Dec. 1, we’ve booked a little over $90,000 in events and I think that’s good for the first year,” he said.
Some of those bookings and the accompanying revenue wouldn’t have been possible without the additional expenditures for equipment that certain groups needed for their events, Curtiss said.
And since most of the items were “one-time expenditures and not ongoing costs,” they will continue to help generate revenue, he said. Especially as many groups have been so pleased with their experience at the new conference center that they have made plans to return for next year and even further on, he said.
“For 2013, we’re already at 114 events,” Curtis said, adding “we have some bookings out to 2017.”
He attributed the return business to the hard work of the CVB staff and their efforts to meet clients’ needs.
“Because if people are happy with their experience then they will want to book their event here again,” he said.
And according to Hickman, people are pretty happy with the conference center.
“We’ve been getting a lot of accolades,” she said.
Hickman spoke of an international oilfield safety trainer who recently led a workshop in Woodward and told her that the Woodward Conference Center was one of the top facilities he had ever visited.
“He said that we were hands down the most accommodating facility anywhere,” she said.
She added that even Gov. Mary Fallin recently gave kudos to the CVB. She said she was attending a mixer at the governor’s mansion and “Fallen said she was proud of what Woodward is doing and how progressive we are.”
“I think that speaks volumes for our facility that we are getting praises out there outside our area,” Hickman said.