After surviving a major downturn due to COVID-19, The Venue at Lenoir City is exceeding expectations after five years of operation.
“The facility is doing extremely well, especially considering it opened in January 2017 and a pandemic hit three years later,” said city administrator Amber Scott.
The site has seen strong growth in the first three years with the help of city management and The Venue manager and team, she said.
As spring approaches, the center’s schedule fills up quickly, said director Allison Sousa.
“We went from 0 to 100 starting 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 establishment “lost” about 260 events when the pandemic hit, about 80% of those bookings were simply postponed and rescheduled for 2021 and 2022, Sousa said.
“So we’re in a situation where we’re also serving existing or postponed business and new events,” she said.
Private social events, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and cultural events, were the first to return. The shift to “virtual” and video events seems to have reversed.
“Private events are back live and in person and have been for almost a year,” Sousa said.
Nonprofit events followed, but many still use a partly virtual, live format. Corporate events are starting to return as many decision makers are located out of state or even out of country.
“The hybrid format is also proving popular with corporate groups,” she said.
After going through tough times, the facility is now in a good financial position and working toward a goal of profitability, Scott said.
“Thanks to our sound economic principles, we succeeded,” she said.
With the fiscal year due to end on June 30 and many bookings already in place, revenue is about 20% above the budgeted target, Sousa said.
Improved bookings not only benefit The Venue, but also the local economy.
Sousa said the tourism industry estimates that every dollar spent at The Venue equates to approximately $8 in economic impact through money spent on hotels, restaurants, gas stations, entertainment and sales at the detail.
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 for March 2 at Calhoun’s was sold out to 200 guests.
Allen said his organization chose The Venue because it likes working with city-owned facilities, easy freeway access and a competitive price.
The overflow of businesses that cannot be accommodated at the facility helps other businesses in the city, Sousa said.
“Since The Venue was designed to accommodate larger events, we have referred smaller events such as weddings, bridal showers and youth birthdays to other Lenoir City venues such as Southern Bell Events, Country Kinfolk and the Memorial Building creating additional economic impact in the city and county,” she said.
The venue’s reputation for delivering a quality event is becoming well known in the area and is keeping customers coming back, she said. Repeat customers currently represent over 60% of bookings, and out-of-county customers represent approximately 70% of current activity.
Scott said The Venue has also benefited from what has been known since mid-2021 as the revenge phase.
“This is where people had been isolated from social events etc. for over a year and were constantly looking for ways to reconnect with others,” Scott said. “Our site has provided an outlet for this, as we have made the safety of our customers and employees a top priority.”
With gas and food prices continuing to rise and supply issues weighing on the economy, now is not the time to be overconfident, Sousa said.
“Like other companies in the hospitality industry, we face a few challenges,” she said.
Current issues include returning to previous staffing levels. At full staff, the establishment employed 48 part-time seasonal workers. Currently at around 20 workers, Sousa said she continues to hire every day.
“While we haven’t increased our space rental prices, we have had to increase some of our food prices and staff costs,” she said.
The site continues to operate with two full-time employees and one permanent part-time.
“The rest of our staff, including event attendants, bartenders and assembly crews, are considered part-time seasonal employees,” Sousa said.