The city has hired retired Police Chief Mike Harden to review operations at Modesto Centre Plaza, with an eye toward finding ways to reduce the city's roughly $600,000 annual subsidy to the convention center.
In addition to making recommendations on how to improve operations, Harden was hired to provide additional management and leadership during the convention center's busiest time of the year and as the city restructures the center's operations to be less expensive, City Manager Greg Nyhoff said Tuesday.
"Mike has tremendous managerial and people skills," Nyhoff said.
As Modesto police chief, Harden oversaw a department with about 300 employees and an annual budget of about $48 million.
Modesto is paying Harden $50 an hour, and he is working 15 to 20 hours a week.
He started about three weeks ago, and city officials said they expect Harden's job will end by mid-January or early February, after the city implements its reorganization.
Modesto officials said it's not unusual for the city to hire retired employees on an interim basis because of their skills and experience. Nyhoff estimated that Modesto has made about 10 of these temporary hires in the past few years.
Although the convention center was not on the agenda for Tuesday's City Council meeting, it did take up some of the council's time.
During public comment, three people associated with a business that holds an annual wedding show at the convention center in January complained to the council that the center's management had booked another company's wedding show two weeks before their show.
They said it was not common practice for convention centers to book similar events so close together. One of them accused Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside of ordering the convention center to book the second show.
Burnside said that was not true, adding that she attended a meeting with the other business and convention staff, but it was the convention center's decision to book the second show.
City officials said the reorganization includes reviewing the center's policies on such things as booking shows. The council referred the three people to meet with Julie Hannon, Modesto's director of parks, recreation and neighborhoods, to resolve their problem.
The center has an annual budget of about $1.3 million, but its revenues are about $700,000 and it depends upon a city subsidy to make ends meet, Harden said.
Hannon said the goal under the reorganization is to reduce the annual subsidy by $200,000. She said that could include staff reductions.
The center has about 28 full-time- equivalent positions. Hannon said about eight of the positions are filled by full-time employees; the rest are held by part-timers.
Harden retired Aug. 4 after 28½ years with the Modesto Police Department. He served as interim chief for nine months and was given the top job in February 2010.
Modesto had considered contracting with Westmont Hospitality Group, the parent company of the DoubleTree Hotel, to manage Modesto Centre Plaza. The hotel adjoins the convention center. But Westmont broke off talks with the city in September.
A company official wrote that the decision was based on information gathered during a due-diligence process. Factors in the decision included lagging revenue generated by Centre Plaza, the city's proposed guidelines and performance objectives for the management contract, the official wrote.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.