The day may come when the St. Joseph Civic Arena is viewed as a historic treasure that must be saved.
Alas, that day remains a few decades down the road. The Civic Arena opened in 1980 and has boasted some significant events in its day, from the Harlem Globetrotters and the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions to Robert Plant and Willie Nelson (They didn’t perform together, although we’d love to hear Willie’s version of “Kashmir.”).
Today, walking into the Civic Arena is like walking into one of those concrete, multipurpose stadiums from the 1970s — the ones that haven’t been demolished yet. The arena gives a dated first impression as it heads into its 40th year in Downtown St. Joseph.
Not surprisingly, this city-owned facility isn’t as active as some would like it to be. Councilman Brian Myers is asking the city to look at options to increase revenue at the Civic Arena. One of the possibilities would be having a private company handle bookings, promotions or management.
Certainly, the city, if it wants to increase revenue, is better off pursuing effective marketing to drum up more business instead of resorting to a rate increase for those groups that use the Civic Arena.
Parks, Recreation and Civic Facilities Director Chuck Kempf, in an interview, showed he’s open to new ideas when it comes to promoting this facility. We, too, view Myers’ suggestion as something worth considering, although the devil is always in the details.
The city will need to be mindful of fees that a third-party company commands in exchange for marketing or promotions. It also must be sure that Myers, who as the owner of a Downtown events venue has standing on this issue, continues to offer valuable advice but doesn’t cross a line of steering business in a particular direction.
Perhaps one source of advice on better promotions isn’t that far away. The Allied Arts Council helps the Missouri Theater thrive as a busier Downtown facility, compared to the Civic Arena. That organization also has experience finding up-and-coming acts for Trails West! before that festival was mothballed.
It doesn’t hurt that the city has spent money on the Missouri Theater, so it’s old and charming instead of old and dreary. The city collects occupancy tax revenue that’s supposed to go toward riverfront development and an events center, and yet both seem mired in perpetual study and dreams of a casino relocation.
We believe a private entity could generate a spark as the Civic Arena nears the age for a midlife crisis. But in the end, a significant boost only comes from overall revitalization of Downtown and the Riverfront.
Otherwise, we’re putting lipstick on a 40-year-old pig.