“Nothing short of miraculous”: Wilson Center profits in 2020 despite shutdown from pandemic

Despite setbacks from the 2020 pandemic, CFCC's Wilson Center saw a profit for the fiscal year
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - One of the areas hit hardest during the height of the 2020 pandemic was the entertainment industry. Concerts were cancelled, Broadway plays paused, and movie theaters shut down.

One of this area’s most popular entertainment venues was forced to close it doors in March of 2020. Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center was like every other entertainment venue across the country. A worldwide pandemic shut everything down.

Fast forward a year and surprisingly, the Wilson Center made a profit despite it all.

Yes, the end of the year — we ended the fiscal year $83,000 in the black which is nothing short of miraculous given the circumstances that we and the entire industry and entire world have been through,” says Shane Fernando, executive director of the Wilson Center.

Fernando says they were forced to be agile during the crisis. A budget typically in the millions dropped to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were forced to bank on virtual performances and drive-in concerts. Employees were hit the hardest. The majority of the 190 employees at the Wilson Center lost their jobs.

“182 to be exact that we had to let go or not renew contracts,” Fernando says. “So, it was extremely difficult to have to do that but we are in the process of re-staffing and rebuilding the team so it feels really good.”

Fernando admits that while drive-in concerts and major donors kept the entertainment center afloat, it was a challenge.

“You know in many departments, the work was still there,” he says. “In terms of the rescheduling we had over 40,000 ticket holders that had to be taken care of and answer questions and provide services to and working with artists and agents to have their shows ready for the future. So, a lot was going on behind the scenes.”

The Wilson Center is staging a strong comeback in the fall with rescheduled concerts and new ones booked.

Wilmington’s new Riverfront Park and the city’s contract with Live Nation will bring in more concerts to the area, accommodating much larger crowds. The Riverfront Park venue can hold about 7,000 people. The Wilson Center seats 1600.

Fernando, though, does not see Live Nation and some of the big acts it will bring to town as competition.

“It’s great for the Wilson Center and its great for our region. Live Nation just shatters the ceiling for what we can provide or for what anyone in the community can provide ‘til they arrived, so they’ve expanded the pie and their work is truly stamping our region as an entertainment region for our state and for the south. So that is good news and we are thrilled to have them in the neighborhood.”

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