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FNSB Should Take Back Carlson Center - Study

CDC Engineers

The last part of a detailed analysis of the Carlson Center in Fairbanks is done. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department hired a consulting firm, GreenPlay,  to examine how the big arena can be better managed. GreenPlay’s findings will be presented to the Borough Assembly’s Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday evening. But they conducted the study without ever setting foot in Fairbanks. 

The biggest finding of the study is that the FNSB should begin managing the Carlson Center by itself, instead of through a for-profit company.
Tom Diehl of the study group GreenPlay, ran down some of these findings in an online presentation on November 17.
“Providing affordable activities to all was a high priority. The management scenario; people supported the borough managing the facility and hiring contractors when it came to special events. As far as funding sources, respondents indicated a desire to see private-public partnerships and sponsors, and there was also strong support for a bond referendum.”
The Center is currently managed by ASM Global, a big multi-national corporation that formed in  October 2019 from the merger of AEG Facilities, with SMG, the event management company the borough originally hired to manage the Carlson in 2016. The merged company oversees more than 300 venues.
Its size is one reason some respondents who participated in the study said they felt the Center was being managed more to make money than to serve the community.
“To have lower fees and increased value to the community, to make sure there was cost recovery, and to be operated by the borough.”
The Carlson Center normally greets 125,000 visitors in a year, and brings in $1.8 million, according in revenue from trade shows and entertainment events, but still requires a $500,000 subsidy from borough taxpayers. That is quite a bit lower than under previous contracts. Right now, of course there are no events – the building is outfitted as a field hospital for overflow of COVID-19.
More than a year ago, the Parks and Recreation department put out a bid for a feasibility study on the Carlson Center. Parks and Rec Director Mike Bork.
“The reason that we brought GreenPlay on board and decided to do this study – our contract with ASM Global, or SMG is up at the end of June.”
Bork coordinated with GreenPlay all through 2020, as they tried to replicate the focus groups, interviews and surveys they would have conducted in person with on-line equivalents. They have briefed Borough Mayor Bryce Ward ahead of their presentation to the Assembly later this week.
“Yes, I definitely heard some criticism in regard to them not being a local firm, that essentially has their boots on the ground.”
But Ward says he thinks GreenPlay captured opinion from a large spectrum of the community.
“The public involvement process they went through was pretty intensive. I think they had 2,000 respondents through the online survey or the Zoom meetings.”
At the November 17th presentation, Tom Diehl says the public input was robust.
“We had involved over 2,045 people between our focus groups, our stakeholder interviews our two webinars, and the surveys. So, we felt we did a pretty good job of reaching out and getting feedback from the community.”