After about a year, the city of Onalaska has decided to terminate its contract with the company currently running the Omni Center.
The company was hired in hopes of finally making the Omni Center profitable in the nearly 20 years it has been open.
This was the first time ever the city chose to hire an outside contractor to run the facility.
Onalaska Mayor, Joe Chilsen said he's pleased with the amount of work and changes the company has made to the Omni Center, and the decision to terminate the company's contract was mutual.
“It's not like anybody did anything wrong,” said Chilsen. “We just have decided, mutually decided, that it’s time for us to go into a different direction.”
Chilsen said the Omni Center is a facility that has never been profitable, but it’s a facility that has the potential to be.
“Right now we have a terrific opportunity to reinvent the Omni Center, if you will,” said Chilsen.
“It can turn a profit,” said Tim Ebner, former general manager of the center. “It's just a matter of how much of a profit are you looking for it to do?”
Ebner spent about six months as the center's general manager before Rink Management was hired.
He said the Omni Center faces a lot of challenges trying to function as both a community center and a profit-making business, especially when it comes to booking events like weddings and banquets.
“Well, you've got the La Crosse Center, you've got other venues that are holding concerts, you've got the hotels themselves who have large banquet rooms and meeting rooms and things like that,” said Ebner. “So the Omni Center has the two banquet rooms and meeting rooms, but you're also competing with other restaurants that have those facilities. So you try to present the best image you can for the Omni Center and try to sell your product.”
Ebner also said the cost of maintaining the ice rinks also adds to the challenges.
“I think if you go out and look at any ice arena, because in the winter months it is an ice arena, there's a lot of rinks that are just making it and there are some that aren't making it,” said Ebner. “So the ice arena alone, if you're looking to make a huge profit on it, you're probably not going to make a huge profit on it.”
The city will not hire new management for a while, but until then, Chilsen and other city officials will spend the next few months deciding if the benefits outweigh the costs.
“To some degree Onalaska is going to have to decide, ‘is this a jewel and what's the worth of that jewel?” Chilsen. “How much money do we want to invest in having an ice facility and a recreational facility, and at that point, then we go forward.”
We also reached out to Rink Management for a comment. They declined, but we last talked to the center's general manager at the beginning of January. At the time, she said 2012 was a good year for business with increases in ice and banquet services.
But even so, the center was not profitable.
Rink Management services will continue to run the facility until April 1. After that, all responsibility will return to the city.