Looking Beyond Overture

Regionalism is a concept honored in theory and seldom in practice among local governments in Dane County. Turf protection almost always trumps cooperation. In this column for Isthmus, I argue that a unified financing and perhaps common operation of the area’s big event facilities–the Overture Center, Monona Terrace and the Alliant Energy Center–makes a lot of sense.

In particular, I warn that the single-minded attention on Overture’s problems comes at the expense of Alliant. I write:

Among the area’s top-tier event facilities, the county-owned Alliant stands alone. This includes the unrivaled breadth of its facilities — the 10,000-seat Coliseum and the Exhibition Hall are augmented with an arena, the Willow Island outdoor venue and nine farm buildings — and also its financing.

Unlike Monona Terrace and Overture, Alliant receives no direct public subsidy. County officials expect it to pay its own way. But times have been tough. The big concerts of years past (everyone from Sinatra to Elvis to Bowie) have largely disappeared, while the facility is still suffering the loss of UW Hockey to the Kohl Center.

According to executive director Bill DiCarlo, Alliant has been digging into its $2 million reserve fund to balance the operational budget in recent years. He expects his deficit to exceed $250,000 this year. But observers say that DiCarlo runs a tight ship, and under normal circumstances Alliant could be expected to tough it out until the economy picks up.

But these aren’t normal times. Alliant needs an infusion of capital now to satisfy the space needs of World Dairy Expo. It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of World Dairy Expo to the Wisconsin economy. The yearly confab — ranked among the top 35 trade shows in the entire country — fills local hotels with more than 65,000 visitors from 90-plus countries.

The immediate economic boost for local hotels, restaurant and entertainment venues exceeds $14 million for the five-day event. But the deeper payoff is the business generated for Wisconsin agribusinesses like ABS bovine genetics in DeForest and BouMatic milking systems in Madison. More than 750 exhibitors will be on hand when the 44th show convenes on Oct. 4.

Just one problem. The expo has a huge waiting list of vendors because Alliant has nowhere near enough space to house them. “We could double the size of the Exhibition Hall and fill it with our waiting list,” says expo general manager Mark Clarke. “That’s an awful lot of money not coming into the community.”

To read the full column, please go here.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Development, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

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