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Worthington Event Center moves closer to its opening

Work goes inside Worthington's event center in this photo taken earlier this week1 / 2
The exterior of the new Event Center, to be located along U.S. 59, is shown.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- It has been years in the making, but the completion of the Event Center is in sight.

"Construction is moving along very nicely," said Don Klain, President of Lighthouse Hospitality Group. "Target date for construction to turn over the event center to operations is May 1. We're targeting May 18 as the first event."

Even though the center isn't completed, there are already 15 events booked in 2013. The first event scheduled is an opening gala. After that, the YMCA Cruise Dinner is slated for May 31.

"Once it's open, there will be a lot more bookings," Klain said. "There are a lot of people who are skeptical about booking in something they can't see, touch and feel."

While the Event Center is scheduled to open in May, the hotel -- Comfort Suites --will be completed about a month later. The hotel will have 75 rooms, which will be all suites.

While the city of Worthington approved a $400,000 bridge loan to Lexington Hotel Development in late July, Klain said there hasn't been any money taken from the city at this point.

The hotel group will run both entities for the city.

"The hotel group runs the event center for the city and incurs all the expenses," Klain said, adding that all workers will be Lighthouse -- and not city -- employees. "The expenses are covered by the room rental, and the city gets 10 percent of the revenue generated by the event center."

The money from the center would offset long-term expenses.

"The hotel stands on its own," said Worthington Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis. "The investment group and the developers are the owners and operators of the hotel. The city has contracted with the group to manage the city's event center.

"Under that arrangement, they are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the facility. In return, we receive 10 percent of the revenue to offset our long-term expenditures -- capital improvements and things of that nature."

The Lighthouse group also has similar arrangements, including a Hampton Inn in Burlington, Wis., and a Days Inn in Wauwatosa, Wis.

"The Burlington Hampton Inn is a public/private joint venture similar to here," Klain said. "In working with them, we had gotten a lot of press out of that work and there were a lot of cities that called us. We turned down three times as many cities as we've sat down and talked to because there are cities that are very tough to work with. We've found Worthington to be very good."

The group has been selective, but Klain said the partnership with Worthington just made sense.

"Every city wants a hotel, but from a financial standpoint, it doesn't make sense," he said. "This hotel makes sense without the conference center, with the conference center, it makes just that much more sense."

The space inside can seat up to 500 people, but can be divided for smaller parties as well. There will be 225 parking spaces, with the ability to add more in the future.

"You'll get things where people will think of Worthington now because they just never had it," Klain said. "There's a lot of outlying cities that probably will come here. The best thing for Worthington, that's tax money that was going elsewhere. Now it's coming in here."

Here are some other answers from the interview with Klain:

Question: Other than weddings and weekend celebrations, how do you fill the Event Center on a daily basis:

Answer: "We have a sales person that's going to sell it to businesses. It is going to be many, many different things," Klain said. "It's going to be for funerals. Funerals that are something that you can't plan, at least normally. That's something we'll probably have here. Quinceaneras are a big thing, and they are not necessarily always weekends. Then you have your normal business meetings. We were talking to a couple local companies and they do have meetings throughout the year."

"Our CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau), for a long period of time, hasn't gone forward and explored opportunities to bring smaller regional conferences and things of that nature," Chapulis said. "We believe the partnership between the CVB and the management group would allow us an opportunity to obtain those types of events as well."

Question: How did you determine the pricing for the Event Center?

Answer: "What we did was, my partner and I did an extensive search. We went out about 75 miles because that's about what people are traveling right now for their events. We were looking for like facilities," Klain said. "That was the hardest part. Because there's not a facility very much like this, it was hard to do the pricing.

"What we did was extrapolated some prices from the local area," Klain continued. "We went to Sioux Falls and looked at the facilities there that were like it. There are a couple different ways you can do pricing. One, you can do it where the room rates are within the price of food, but we're having outside caterers, so you can't do that. We looked at what others were doing and what we do on a weekday versus a weekend. We put that all together and boiled it down to what we came out with."

Question: Is there any restriction to who can cater the food?

Answer: "Right now, we're taking in caterers. How we're coming up with caterers is the ones in town that have been the most active, which are BenLee's, Hy-Vee and Hickory Lodge, those were the three -- when we were talking with people going around doing the diligence -- that came up the most," Klain said. "Then I got a call from somebody and they wanted to use Five Star, which is what the Dayton House uses.

"Our rule is, right now, as long as they are a licensed food provider and they are properly insured, they can cater at the event center. I guess what I'm saying is we don't have restrictions on who is catering right now. Eventually, we may. The caterer is responsible for using that back facility and we need to make sure the person that's going to do it is going to take care of it. They clean the plates and cups and all that, so we want to make sure they take care of the city's assets."

Question: Will there be a restaurant on site?

Answer: "We are in the process of looking at it. We aren't going after anybody quite yet. We've talked to a couple people, yes. I personally talked to Green Mill," Klain said. "I called and talked to the CEO of Green Mill and they don't want to come to Worthington. I didn't ask why.

"There is a spot on the lot that we have identified for a restaurant. That's in the eventual plan. We didn't want to get distracted with the restaurant part until we get this process really going along. The chances of getting a chain restaurant are pretty slim, I think. Now, as the economy improves, maybe it will be better. But we do have interest in some small independent restaurants."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.