During a report from Derby Public Library Director Eric Gustafson at its Feb. 9 meeting, the city council heard the hard numbers on event venue rentals for 2020. Unsurprisingly, those numbers took a steep dip over the past year, but they still saw use – and the demand for those facilities remains.
Between The Venue and Pavilion at Madison Avenue Central Park, there were 36 total rentals in 2020 (compared to 165 in 2019), as Gustafson reported they were “hit the hardest.” Meanwhile, The Lodge at Warren Riverview Park saw a little more usage – with 78 total rentals (compared to 140 in 2019). The former have been available for rent since 2016, with the latter operating since late 2018.
Overall earnings off rentals were greatly deflated as well, with city facility rentals bringing in $62,000 in 2020 compared to $191,000 in 2019.
“Just from a revenue perspective, it was not a great year,” Gustafson said.
A total of 37 rental dates were postponed in 2020, while 48 were cancelled outright and refunded (with $24,000 returned to potential renters). As to not promote gatherings during the pandemic, Communications Director Kristy Bansemer noted advertising was suspended. Rental fees also remained the same, but a larger number of full refunds were given due to COVID-related circumstances.
Constantly changing gathering restrictions – as well as explaining those to renters – have been the biggest challenge in continuing operations, Bansemer noted. In some cases, she said events were moved into a larger space to provide a safer environment based on public health orders.
Still, a number of gatherings were held at city event venues as human nature – and the desire for social interaction – led to some limited use in 2020.
“We have continued to see many types of events: small weddings, baby showers, graduation parties, funeral lunches, retirement events and birthday parties. These have been smaller than past events, but there definitely is still demand,” Bansemer said. “Going forward, we’re glad the DRC created the big room at the Hubbard Arts Center for rentals because there are still peak weekends (post-pandemic) when all our facilities are booked, and Derby residents have to find other options.”
Hubbard Arts Center’s larger room, The Gallery, has dealt with similar issues since opening for rentals on Oct. 1, 2020. Derby Recreation Commission Director of Facilities Darcie Parkhurst noted usage has been low so far, with the DRC having to turn some away due to county health restrictions – keeping the schedule pretty open at the moment.
“We only have a few rentals scheduled at the moment for The Gallery and are being very careful to ensure we continue to follow the Sedgwick County health order,” Parkhurst said. “Therefore, we are only moving forward [with] rentals that fall in line with that order.”
Going forward, city event venues will look to rebound in 2021. Both Gustafson and Bansemer noted the city is in a good position through March – when demand will begin to increase and the city will have to consider postponements once again based on county restrictions. With current reservations and rescheduled 2020 events, Bansemer said Madison Avenue Central Park is already booked almost every weekend through late fall (while The Lodge is less busy, as it caters to smaller events).
Having rental facilities of various sizes available, including those at the Derby Public Library, the city council was glad to see staff adapting to continue offering those outlets to the community. The use through the pandemic – limited as it may have been – also has the city optimistic about what 2021 could bring.
“There is definitely a need and demand for these facilities, and the city plans to continue to offer them for rentals that can occur safely within public health guidelines,” Bansemer said. “Hopefully, the situation will improve in the coming months, and we will see some of these larger events happen. I think people are optimistic that they will be able to have larger events this summer or fall.”