The weekend of July 5, a crowd totaling some 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered in the relatively new event center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for an annual regional convention.
“The turnout was great,” said McKell Miller, a local spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “If we were to build a facility for our conventions, it would have been The UMBC Event Center.”
Miller said the available parking, the layout of the center, the location of the restrooms and ADA accessibility were all highlights of the space.
The event center has “been a fantastic addition to the campus,” said Greg Simmons, UMBC’s vice president for institutional advancement. “Our main focus of this building is building community, building a vibrant campus life for students, faculty and staff [and neighbors].”
The center opened officially in February 2018 and its first event, a men’s basketball game, sold out the 6,000-seat arena. The facility is owned by the university but operated by Oak View Group Facilities, a Los Angeles-based firm.
Miller said the event space was perfect for the Witnesses’ convention, themed “Love Never Fails.” It was the Baltimore-D.C. regional convention, though other conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide will be gathering under the same theme, he said. The convention is held on weekends, until the weekend of Aug. 16-18.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, are far from the only group that has made use of the event space. Woodlawn, Lansdowne and Catonsville high schools have all held their graduation ceremonies there and other acts, including the Harlem Globetrotters, have made use of the space.
The firm signed a contract with UMBC when the arena opened, and is set to run for three years, said Terry Cook, senior associate vice president of administrative services at the school. Per the terms of the contract, UMBC pays OVG $50,000 to $70,000 monthly, for staffing costs and management fees. The contract does have a renewal option.
Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, said the Events Center “definitely creates a destination right next to Arbutus.”
“Hopefully, the folks attending events there will check out some of the local fare before going,” she said.
The Event Center on campus is a self-supporting operation, meaning the money it costs to run it — which goes toward paying OVG, handling the utilities, paying employees, and the like — comes from revenue generated by the center, and not from UMBC’s state-supported operating budget.
The center cost about $85 million to construct; Cook said it costs about $70,000 monthly to operate, in addition to the monthly fee it pays OVG. UMBC also has on its campus the Retriever Activities Center, a multipurpose arena that seats around 4,000.
Revenue for the new Event Center comes from concert and event bookings, membership sales, concessions and the like, Cook said.