Verizon Arena Battles Tough Entertainment Market

by George Waldon  on Monday, Jul. 19, 2010 12:00 am  

'Watching Our Expenses'
Gone from the business scene through bankruptcy and the Verizon Arena rent roll are two Little Rock ventures, Forza Marketing Group and J.M. Products.

Suite agreements weren't renewed by U.S. Bank of Minneapolis, which inherited the lease originated by its predecessor, Mercantile Bank of Arkansas; VCC of Little Rock, the local partner in the construction management team that built the arena; and Beach Enterprises of Little Rock, parent company for a family of Arkansas real estate title companies.

Gus Vratsinas, chairman of VCC, said fiscal stewardship during uncertain economic times prompted the tough decision to forgo renewing the firm's suite agreement.

"We thought it was great," Vratsinas said of the firm's involvement with the suites program. "I supported the idea of an arena for years, and we were proud to be part of the project.

"When the renewal time came up, we were like a lot of companies. We're watching our expenses. We did continue doing the Save Your Seats program" with eight seats.

Gone from the suites picture are teams that once called the arena home: Trojans basketball, RiverBlades hockey and Twisters arena football. The arena staff retains hope of someday landing a professional franchise as a drawing card once again.

Even the suites without long-term leases provide revenue for operations on a one-time event basis. The cost ranges from $250 for a high school or college graduation ceremony to $750 for a concert that bears the added cost of tickets and any food ordered.

"We make money by leasing the vacant suites to the public for events as well," said Jared Lillard, director of sales and finance. "For the Eagles [concert on July 1], we had every suite in the building full except for the six suites behind the stage."

Awaiting an Upturn
The arena staff considered mounting a marketing push to replace exiting suite tenants. However, Marion said the decision was made to wait for more favorable conditions.

"We thought about a more significant marketing campaign," Marion said. "It just seemed like it was a bad time to do that.

"We didn't go into any heavy marketing during the last 18 months because of the economy. Hopefully, the economy will turn around, and we can beat the bushes a little harder."



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