Manor’s Economic Drag Burdens Town Budget

Mangone: Fish or Cut Bait

Conceived and sold to the public as a profit-making venture, Doko Manor has created a drain on Town finances.

Conceived and sold to the public as a profit-making venture, Doko Manor has created a drain on Town finances.

BLYTHEWOOD – Despite The Manor’s now successful weekend rentals, the facility’s continuing financial quagmire was still the hot topic at Town Council’s annual retreat, held at The Langford-Nord House in Blythewood on Saturday. The bottom line was the urgent need to “stop the bleeding” and generate revenue.

After hearing a presentation from a local woman about how she would market the facility, Council members discussed options that included hiring professional marketers, introducing a website exclusively for The Manor and utilizing various social media and video presentations.

“We keep going in the hole every month and we’re just trying to get to a place where we can break even,” said Councilman Tom Utroska. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of forethought, in my opinion, when The Manor was built. You can’t hold more than one meeting at a time (in the large reception room) on weekends because of sound proofing, even though the room is dividable into four parts. We’re going to have to zero in on rentals during the week.”

Councilman Bob Mangone agreed, saying, “Weekday meetings are where we have to get our revenue.”

“We talk about this every day at Town Hall,” Mayor J. Michael Ross told the group. “We’ve looked at having a website for the Manor. We’ve met with the Gannet people (USA Today), WLTX and a videographer. We’re looking at the next step. We’ve got to get somebody to promote it.”

“Whatever we do,” Mangone said, “we have to have an end point that says this is how much incremental income we’ll bring in for the money we spend. If we’re going to spend a chunk of change advertising The Manor, we need to bring in significant income and not go further and further in the hole.”

“Every month we have a $4,000-$5,000 deficit,” Ross said. “We don’t have anything else in the town that’s drawing that kind of deficit. We’ve got to do something.”

Town Administrator Gary Parker made a number of suggestions, including issuing a Request for Quotes (RFQ) for a website to promote the facility, but he expressed his own consternation at the dilemma the Town faces as expenses for The Manor accumulate.

“This is a unique animal in my experience,” Parker said. “I have never had a situation where I was managing a municipality and had such an aspect of operation as this one (The Manor).”

As frustration made its way around the table, Councilman Tom Utroska vented.

“We keep talking about it and do nothing,” Utroska said. “We need to stop the bleeding. We’ve tried various and sundry approaches, but we’re basically in the same place we were a year ago. We’re still hemorrhaging.”

“A compelling event creates a decision,” Mangone told the group. “Our compelling event (The Manor) is becoming chronic. It needs money to win the battle. You must line everything up to see if you can win the battle. We have a community center that, by design, was to be a revenue source. Now we’re in the event planning business. I’m not sure the Town should be in the restaurant or event planning business. We need to fish or cut bait.”

Councilman Bob Massa disagreed with Parker about putting out an RFQ as a first step.

“The RFQ takes time,” Massa said. “We need to get a website up right away.”

“You’re looking at well over $5,000,” Parker said, “and normally when I’m seeking a company to spend that kind of money with, I’m going to do an RFQ.”

An RFQ, he said, would take six to eight weeks.

Town Attorney Jim Meggs confirmed that such a purchase would require a competitive bid process. The Council directed Parker to draft an RFQ to send out as soon as possible.

“I’m going to work on that this week and begin the process of recruiting a marketing person who would work on filling weekday vacancies,” Parker told The Voice.