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Dome, Bayfront operator backs record

The man who runs the Florida Suncoast Dome and Bayfront Center on Tuesday defended his credibility and his company's record in trying to bring events to the city-owned venues.

Russ Cline, who owns Facility Management Associates, told council members at a workshop meeting that he needed an additional $500,000 to make budget at the facilities because of the poor economy. He said the lack of concerts and other performances was not for lack of trying.

The Dome is hurting because of its lack of concerts _ the big moneymaking events for the stadium. While the Dome had nine concerts last year, it hasn't had any this year. The Bayfront had a couple of scheduling changes that resulted in revenue losses even though its number of performances increased from 261 last year to 291 this year.

And Cline tweaked council members for questioning his credibility, which he says seems to be strong everywhere but St. Petersburg.

"It's not slipping anywhere else in the country, but it seems to be slipping here," he said.

Cline's presentation was a prelude to his appearance before the council Thursday. That's when Cline is expected to ask the city for the needed money to make this year's budget for operating the Dome and the Bayfront. If the additional money is approved, the Dome's $1.4-million subsidy will increase by $350,000 and Bayfront's $734,000 budget will go up by $150,000.

Council chairman Robert Stewart predicted "good, hard questions" for Cline on Thursday.

"I'm frustrated in dealing with the management firm and its litany of reasons and excuses for not performing," Stewart said. "It's very frustrating and it's expensive to taxpayers and the city."

Does that mean the city will look for another management firm?

"I'm not sure what our options and alternatives are at this stage," Stewart said. "I think there's general dissatisfaction among certain council members who think this management firm is not getting the job done to our satisfaction. It may be time to explore other alternatives."

Cline acknowledged Tuesday that his tenure at the Dome could be short. If the city gets a baseball team, the team would run the Dome, eliminating the need for Cline's company.

"I'm not trying to sell anybody," Cline said. "I'm going to be out of here in a year and a half or two years."

Cline spent much of his time before the council delivering facts and figures on the facilities' performances during the last four years. Comparing the total budgeted subsidy for four years against the actual subsidy shows that Cline overshot his $6.8-million budget by $13,881, or 0.2 percent.

"Some statements have been made by a council member that Russ Cline comes in and BS's us and it's okay," Cline said. "These are the facts. We're doing the best we can."