Committee recomends Center management proposal

The Ocean Shores Lodging Tax Advisory Committee has recommended the city accept the Convention Center management services proposal made by a San Antonio, Texas company over a less-comprehensive proposal by Columbia Hospitality of Seattle.

After hearing directly from two representatives of Pinnacle Venue Services of San Antonio and a phone conversation with Columbia Vice President Matt Hagerman on Aug. 24, the committee that oversees the Convention Center voted unanimously to accept the more thorough proposal.

Pinnacle’s plan includes an assessment of the Convention Center as a venue, followed by ongoing sales and marketing oversight “on an ongoing basis.”

“As venue operators, Pinnacle understands that developing a sustainable business model for the Ocean Shores Convention Center is imperative for the long-term success,” the proposal said.

The venue assessment would cost $20,000, and the oversight portion along with a sale and marketing program would cost $2,500 per month. “This does not include the direct costs of hiring and employing (a) director of sales and marketing (recommended at $50,000 a year salary, plus benefits, with 4 percent sales commission), and the necessary costs to support the sale initiatives,” according to the Pinnacle Proposal from Doug Higgons, managing partner of the company.

The proposal also recommends a $35,000 annual promotions budget to support the director’s position, which would be filled through a recruiting and hiring process managed by Pinnacle.

Columbia did not present a full oversight proposal, but did propose a 90-day assessment of the Convention Center for a flat rate of $10,000.

“Columbia Hospitality will provide consulting and advisory services with a primary focus of driving revenue to both the Conference Center as well as Ocean Shores business as a whole,” the Columbia proposal said. Some of the elements of the proposal included an annual marketing plan, review of website content and digital marketing strategies, as well as a food and beverage operations audit, review of the physical building and property audit.

After discussing the proposals during the past two meetings, the committee was ready to approve Pinnacle on Aug. 24. “I feel comfortable with the approach that Pinnacle has brought us,” said City Councilman John Lynn, a member of the LTAC Committee.

Committee Member Dianne Hansen noted the group had asked Pinnacle to break down its proposal for the city and questioned if the members were ready to approve the full two parts.

“Option two is the one that takes us somewhere,” she said. “Option one is the one that just identifies stuff.”

“We fell our strongest proposal has come from Pinnacle, and I would make a motion that we ask the mayor to sit down with Pinnacle and bring back in the big picture — based on our budget — what they see our needs are,” Hansen added in moving to accept the plan.

Mayor Crystal Dingler currently is the acting director of the Convention Center, and she was joined by Finance Director Angela Folkers at the meeting.

“Both groups made good presentations and I like their ideas,” said Jim Nagan of the Coastal Interpretive Center, also a member of the committee. “Like any business, we need a professional to run the place. This is an important business, and it takes some specific skills to run it.” Comparing the overall proposals, Nagan said he felt “more comfortable about Pinnacle in that regard. We are going to have to spend money to make money.”

Grey Gull general manager Darcy Hambrick, another committee member, said she also felt more comfortable with the Texas-based company after meeting officials Barry Straffici and Tom Paquette. Paquette told members of the committee that facilities like the Ocean Shores Convention Center are “why we started our business — for markets and venues just like this.”

The company has been in business two years, with Straffici having experience in the Northwest and in markets similar in size to Ocean Shores.

“In these small markets, every one is different,” he said. “We have systems, and that’s what this business is about. Because we want to bring to you, as a public entity when you are already operating, better and more efficient systems. But you’ve got to manage and execute those systems. … It’s a dynamic process that continually evolves. You have to test the market.”

Straffici described the market for the Convention Center as being “under-served.”

“We get great satisfaction from working with smaller markets,” he said.”This fits our model, this fits our business plan and I am very excited about it.”

The Pinnacle representatives toured the facility and made some off-the-cuff observations, praising the overall design and utility of the building and going so far as suggesting opening up opportunities for local artists to show their work inside to brighten up the interior and provide more of a sense of community.

The overall goal is to bring more events, conventions, and business opportunities for the entire community.

“That’s what these building are built for,” Straffici said. “We want economic drivers. We want direct spending.”