HARLINGEN — Struggling to boost bookings amid the pandemic, the Harlingen Convention Center’s operator is projecting a $1 million budget showing a $5,400 shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.

Earlier this week, BC Lynd Hospitality, the convention center’s operator, presented city commissioners with a budget showing total revenues of $1,067,043 and $1,072,483 in total expenditures, leaving the $5,400 deficit, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said Thursday.

“That’s basically a balanced budget,” he said, adding a single booking would offset the shortfall. “For now, they’re projecting a positive outlook.”

Despite the pandemic’s stranglehold on the national market, a new report shows the convention center’s bookings slowly climbing.

Last year, the convention center’s budget showed total revenues of $488,150, with a $234,772 deficit.

During a meeting Wednesday, Javier Segura, the convention center’s general manager, told commissioners, “We believe this to be a realistic budget during these times.”

In the convention center’s budget appearing in the commission meeting agenda’s executive summary, salaries and staffing are unclear.

On Thursday, a salesman said Segura, who took over in February as the third general manager to oversee the convention center since it opened in May 2019, was referring questions to BC Lynd’s San Antonio headquarters. There, Brandon Raney, the company’s chief executive officer, did not respond to a message requesting comment.

A view of the Harlingen Hilton Garden Inn part of the first full service convention center Hotel in the Rio Grande Valley. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Struggling through pandemic

Ten months after it opened, the pandemic broke out here in March 2020, wiping out bookings amid federal guidelines and state orders limiting capacity to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Last November, BC Lynd’s $25 million, five-story Hilton Garden Inn opened, allowing the convention center to draw business from the city’s biggest upscale hotel.

On Thursday, the hotel was about 80 percent booked, a clerk said.

Meanwhile, a new report based on June through August bookings shows the pandemic’s continuing grasp on the market.

In June, as COVID-19 cases remained relatively low, bookings drove revenues to $156,165.

But as the delta variant spiked cases in July, revenue dropped to $39,593 while climbing to $45,269 in August, the report shows.

A view of the Harlingen Hilton Garden Inn part of the first full service convention center Hotel in the Rio Grande Valley. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Reaching out for business

During the summer, companies booking events included Taskus, KCI Technologies and Charlie Clark Nissan while the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Harlingen Medical Center and First Community Bank also held meetings there.

Meanwhile, a church held several events along with an amateur boxing organization while residents booked quinceañeras, bridal showers and graduation parties.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Steven Villarreal, the convention center’s sales director, told commissioners he was forging partnerships with UTRGV and its school of medicine, IDEA Public Schools and the Valley’s school districts.

Meanwhile, he’s reaching across the state for business, selling the convention center as South Texas’ sole venue connected to a hotel, he said.

“We’ve also introduced our convention center for incoming conferences that do business within the South Padre Island areas and invited them to come to us here in Harlingen as the formal destination here in South Texas to only carry the convention center connected to a hotel south of San Antonio,” Villarreal told commissioners.

“That’s been very impressive within the areas such as Austin, Texas, to the association market and some of the medical market, our neighboring towns — San Antonio, Corpus, Laredo,” he said. “With Hilton being tied and connected with the convention center, that just gives us more of a wider open door and more opportunities because they’re coming to a brand new hotel.”

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