GRAND FORKS – Over the past two years, the pandemic has forced the cancellation and postponement of events at major entertainment venues in Grand Forks, but facility managers are cautiously optimistic event activity will continue to rebound in 2022.
The outlook for the new year “absolutely depends on the pandemic and where it goes from here,” said Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson. “Is it easing or does it continue to disrupt life?”
In recent weeks, a rapid increase in the number of positive COVID cases in the region has taken a toll on the operations of The Ralph – which hosts nearly 11,700 hockey fans – leading to the postponement of hockey and basketball games. -ball in the establishment.
People are aware of and reacting to the number of local coronavirus hospitalizations, Hodgson said. “So to use a hockey analogy, I would say the COVID game, for us, is far from over.”
Besides sporting events, the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the planning of other events at The Ralph.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on tours and events that travel across the country, whether it’s a concert tour, family show or other attraction,” Hodgson said. “This industry was pretty much wiped out and eliminated in March 2020, and is now back and taking steps to come back, but there still isn’t nearly the amount of national event traffic that there is. had before the pandemic – so it’s still in recovery mode, of course.
Hodgson and his colleagues are seeing some customers change their behavior based on recent case numbers, he said. The drop in attendance suggests that some are avoiding large crowd events “at a time when they are seeing greater (COVID) transmission in the community.
“It certainly seems that at least some of the population are a bit more hesitant than others to attend events.”
But there are positive signs that the recovery is building.
The Ralph will host a concert on Feb. 6 (Nickelodeon TV star JoJo Siwa), which marks “our return to the concert business here post-pandemic, so we’re thrilled about that,” Hodgson said. Ticket sales for the concert were “strong”.
“I think the market is ready to do it again; they are ready to participate in events. In general, the events that took place were well followed. (But) it’s definitely a very fluid situation,” he said.
Hodgson expects to see “greater interest” in the third and fourth quarters of 2022, especially with touring, he said. “So I think the future looks bright.”
Despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic, Anna Rosburg, Executive Director of the Alerus Center, looks back with pride on the banner year that marked 2021. And with new technologies and protocols in place to ensure the safest possible environment, she is optimistic that 2022 “will be just as good if not stronger” than 2021, she said.
Per North Dakota Smart Restart guidelines, “During the pandemic, we were able to continue hosting events; they just looked a little different,” Rosburg said.
From the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 until December 31, 2020, the Alerus hosted over 200 events. In 2021, 402 events took place, including record-breaking concerts and ticketed events, such as the Luke Combs and Eric Church concerts and the UND-NDSU football match, she said.
“2021 felt a lot more normal than 2020,” Rosburg said, noting that facility leaders “planned a three-year recovery strategy, with the city of Grand Forks and our commission, to get back on track because of the pandemic. And we were pleasantly surprised at how 2021 turned out for us.
“We projected a loss of $253,000, based on this three-year stimulus strategy, and based on our latest budget forecast, there’s a good chance we’ll be in the black for 21,” said she said, adding that the 2021 numbers are not final.
The Alerus is experiencing postponements and cancellations on the conference side of its activities. This type of activity “bounces back a little slower,” she said.
Overall, Rosburg is “extremely optimistic” about what’s to come this year, she said. “I think the name of the game for us is to just continue to be nimble and flexible throughout the pandemic, and 2022 is really on track to be a very positive year as well.”
At the Empire Arts Center, Debra Pflughoeft-Hassett, Executive Director, said: “We felt about a month ago that we were on the way to mostly regular programming with regular seating, our schedule of typical events and the use of our spaces.
“Just recently, we took a step back and are reviewing each event again on a case-by-case basis,” guided by county public health data, which for the most part has been fairly consistent since September, she said.
The Empire is following protocols for staff, volunteers and cast and “we don’t see that going away anytime soon” because if someone gets sick it could cause a show to shut down.
“We do not want to go digital with our theater shows in particular, because it’s just not the same,” she said. “It’s live theater – you can’t do live theater in a digital format; it does not work.
In terms of rental commitments, Empire has been “about on track with previous years starting around September, so I don’t anticipate we’re going to have a reduction in events for our fiscal year (ending June 30).”
Board members told her that “a lot of people are comfortable being outside,” she said, noting that there are others who don’t.
Attendance at Empire events depends on the event, she said. “If it’s not a full house they might come out, but if they think we’re going to be crammed in, everyone shoulder to shoulder, they might not come out.”
Some events have been moved from the small Black Box Studio to the main auditorium, to allow audience members to sit further apart.
As she looks to the year ahead, Pflughoeft-Hassett said, “I’m the ultimate optimist. Based on what we’re seeing with the local bands that rent from us, I think we’re going to be mostly on par with our regular, normal programming – that is, at least in part, down to tenants .
Only a “significant enough state or county health issue (would) make the Empire say, ‘no, we won’t have events or even limit seating.’ And all of that would go through the board, unless, of course, it was mandated.
Pflughoeft-Hassett expects “things to continue as usual when it comes to the number of shows – whether in-house or rental programs – (and) similarly sized audiences.
“I think our community is doing pretty well,” she said. “People are eager to get out, and everything they’re doing seems to be working, because the county’s risk level hasn’t really changed in a few months. So staying steady is sometimes as good as it gets.