Bethel Church & The Redding Convention Center: A Match Made in Heaven?

In the midst of a failing economy, the City of Redding has struggled to keep the Convention Center open.  This year, the City developed a controversial solution to keep the doors open by proposing a lease deal with Bethel Church.  On August 1, the City agreed to lease the Convention Center to Bethel Church for 4.75 years which will generate over $1 million in revenue for the City of Redding.  Advance Redding, a non-profit subsidiary of Bethel Church is the organization overseeing the management of the Convention Center with all board members appointed by Bethel Church.  (www.redding.com).   The Church often has a negative reputation in Redding because of its worship services and Church of Supernatural Ministry.  However, Bethel’s presence in Redding has exploded over the last several years and is a major economic contributor for the city, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from it’s conferences/schools.  While the lease proposal may be a good economic solution to keep the Convention Center doors open, it may also be a disaster waiting to happen.  By leasing the convention center to a church, the City of Redding has given a private organization control of a public building that was paid for by tax dollars.  This unpopular decision will have a negative effect on the Redding economy and show schedule at the convention center.

During the meeting to vote on the issue, the residents opposing the lease proposal emphasized that the City is giving a public building to a private business.  (Mobley).   Former Redding resident, John Ritrovato, drove 12 hours to attend the meeting.  “Federal and local government does not seem to remember it represents the people,” Ritrovato said. “I attended Bethel, and I love that church. But I do not believe people here want the city to take a publicly-owned building their tax dollars paid for and turn it over to a church.”  (Mobley)

The lease agreement will have a negative impact on the local economy.  Each year the Convention Center costs nearly $1 million in hotel taxes to run.  As a potential solution, City officials considered privatizing the 41-year-old facility but last year a council-appointed commission advised the City to continue running the convention center.   (Longoria).  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the unemployment rate in Shasta County was 14.2% in August, one of the highest in the state.  (www.bls.gov).  The outfall of the City’s lease with Bethel Church will result in at least 80 jobs lost as Bethel plans on using volunteers to run the Convention Center.   (www.kcrtv.com).

As a result of the Bethel lease, Redding residents may find the Convention Center show schedule lacking compared to what it has been in past years.  Advance Redding will run the Convention Center according to guidelines in the lease contract which requires a minimum of 60 days’ worth of shows/events unaffiliated with Bethel.  (www.redding.com).   According to a city report, the auditorium has averaged 72 events per year which makes the terms of the Bethel lease fall short.  (www.redding.com).   Opponents of the lease argue that allowing a church to run the Convention Center may exclude the public and allow a limited variety of shows which reflect Bethel’s preferences.  Even if Bethel fulfills its contractual obligations, will it exploit them by introducing its religious views into these venues or will event promoters go elsewhere because they don’t want to be associated with a church?  It may only be a matter of time before conflicts of interest become real problems for the City of Redding.

Times are tough and the City of Redding is no stranger to the current economic issues. The City’s lease with Bethel Church will allow the ailing Convention Center to remain open to the community, but at what price?   On the surface it appears the City has thrown a very costly “Hail Mary” pass and the community will suffer.  The City of Redding no longer controls the convention center, the community has less access to the center and local jobs will be lost.  Only time will tell if this decision turns out to be a good one for the City.

Click here for an explanation of the Shasta College student essay project.

Tracy Schumann is a student at Shasta College.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Chamberlain, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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