During a closed session a month ago Raleigh City Councilors approved a $150,000 contribution to the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses convention that will be held next year at the PNC Arena.
The city has been contributing money toward the event since it first came to Raleigh seven years ago.
“This is not new,” said City Manager Russell Allen. He said the event has been built into the city’s annual budget for awhile.
The approval came during a closed session after the regular Sept. 18 City Council meeting. The meeting minutes obtained by the Record, posted below, read, “City Manager Allen stated the Council knew his feelings about the request.”
He declined when asked to elaborate on those feelings during a later interview.
The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Centennial Authority also contribute funding to the convention.
Dave Olsen, PNC Arena general manager, said that this is the only religiously affiliated event at the area that has a partnership with the city, the visitor’s bureau and the Centennial Authority.
Allen said that other religiously-affiliated groups and organizations typically use the convention center and could qualify for similar business development funding or discounts. But, this is the only event that is held at the arena and also receives some public funding.
According to the backup documents provided with the meeting minutes, the convention received a total of $275,000 in 2011.
The funding covers a portion of the arena rental plus expenses, said Olsen.
The convention is held over the course of two weekends during the mid-summer, when, Olsen said, business at the arena is slow. He said each day of the convention brings in about 10,000 people.
“They have been, specifically through these rough economic times, pretty consistent in attendance and the amount of money they bring to the local economy,” he said. “They’ve been pretty solid from a business standpoint all seven years.”
According to city documents, the projected revenue from the 2011 event in hotel and food and beverage sales is $7.8 million. The projected tax revenue – including sales taxes – amounts to about $301,000.
Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said the city will contribute money to organizations that bring in that kind of economic boost to the city, especially during a slow season like August. She said that similar events include the CIAA tournament, which the city recently lost to Charlotte and the Ironman triathlon, which will be coming in the future.
The Give Back
In return, the group usually performs some kind of community service project at the arena.
Typically, Olsen said, the group will clean the building and the grounds for free, saving the arena money from hiring an outside contractor. In the past the group has also planted trees throughout the property.
But this year City Councilors say they want to see more outreach into the community.
Baldwin explained that in the past the City Council would encourage and suggest that the group to partner with other organizations in the community, but wouldn’t require it. The Jehovah’s Witnesses would instead perform some other kind of service work.
This year, she said they decided to tie the funding directly to the completion of a community service.
Councilors gave the group three options including providing support or volunteers for a local Habitat for Humanity project, Helping Hands Mission relocation or a food or clothing drive for one of the city’s food banks or shelters. The group could suggest its own partnership, but it must be approved by the City Council.