After surviving a big downturn due to COVID-19, The Venue at Lenoir City is exceeding expectations after five years of operation.
“The facility is functional extremely well, especially when you consider that it was opened in January 2017 and a pandemic struck just three years later,” City Administrator Amber Scott said.
The Venue experienced strong growth in the first three years with help from city leadership and the director and team of The Venue, she said.
Heading into the spring, the center’s calendar is filling up fast, Director Allison Sousa said.
“We went from 0 to 100 beginning last May and haven’t stopped since,” she said.
Last week the facility hosted more than 200 guests from the Tennessee Government Finance Officers Association.
While the facility “lost” about 260 events when the pandemic hit, roughly 80 percent of those bookings were simply postponed and rescheduled for 2021 and 2022, Sousa said.
“So, we’re in a situation where we are serving existing or postponed business and new events as well,” she said.
Private social events, including weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and cultural events, were the first to return. The shift to “virtual” and video events seem to have reversed.
“Private events are back to all live and in person and have been for almost a year,” Sousa said.
Nonprofit events followed, but many are still using a part virtual, part live format. Corporate events are starting to come back as many decision-makers are located out of the state or even out of the country.
“The hybrid format is also proving popular with the corporate groups,” she said.
After facing some tough times, the facility is now in a good place financially and working toward a goal of profitability, Scott said.
“With our sound economic principles, we made it through,” she said.
With the fiscal year scheduled to end June 30 and lots of bookings already in place, revenue is about 20 percent above the budgeted goal, Sousa said.
The improvement in bookings doesn’t just benefit The Venue, but also the local economy.
Sousa said the tourism industry estimates that every $1 spent at The Venue equates to roughly $8 in economic impact through money spent at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, entertainment and retail.
Sandi Allen, executive director of TGFOA, confirmed the economic impact. She said conference attendees came from across the state and as far away as Memphis. A dinner scheduled March 2 at Calhoun’s was sold out at 200 guests.
Allen said her organization choose The Venue because they like to work with city-owned facilities, easy access from the interstate and a competitive price.
The overflow from business that cannot be accommodated at the facility is helping other businesses in the city, Sousa said.
“Since The Venue was designed to accommodate larger events, we have been referring to smaller events like weddings, bridal showers and youth birthdays to other Lenoir City venues, such as Southern Bell Events, Country Kinfolk and the Memorial Building, thereby creating an additional economic impact in the city and county,” she said.
The Venue’s reputation for providing a quality event is becoming known in the region and keeping customers coming back, she said. Repeat clients currently account for more than 60 percent of bookings, and out-of-county clients represent about 70 percent of current business.
Scott said The Venue has also benefitted from what has since mid-2021 been called the revenge phase.
“This is where people had been kept isolated from social events, and the like, for over a year and were constantly looking for ways to reconnect with others again,” Scott said. “Our Venue provided an outlet for that as we kept the safety of our clients and employees as a top priority.”
As gas and food prices continue to rise and supply issues squeeze the economy, this is no time to get overconfident, Sousa said.
“Like other businesses in the hospitality industry, we are facing a few challenges,” she said.
Current issues include returning to previous staffing levels. At full staff, the facility employed 48 seasonal part-timers. Currently at about 20 workers, Sousa said she continues to hire every day.
“While we have not increased our space rental pricing, we have had to go up on some of our food pricing and staffing costs,” she said.
The Venue continues to operate with two full-time and a permanent part-time employees.
“The remainder of our staff, including event attendants, bartenders and set-up crews, are considered seasonal part-time employees,” Sousa said.