Ettl Hall at Sutter museum very slow to draw event rentals
FULL DAY: $500, down from $700. For events with alcohol, $550, down from $900.
PARTIAL DAY: $250, but no alcohol.
COUNTY AGENCY: $250, but $50 registration fee waived.
With a new fee structure in place, Sutter County officials are hoping to attract more reservations to Ettl Hall, the event center at the Community Memorial Museum that opened in 2011 at some county expense.
It would be tough to do much worse, with one — yes, one — reservation at the hall over the last six months.
"That's ludicrous," said Supervisor Larry Montna, who has criticized the fees for the hall since it opened, and said the results speak for themselves. "You would think there's enough people to rent it out."
Built for about $510,000 at the museum on Butte House Road with a combination of estate donations, grants, private donations and county money, Ettl Hall was intended to be a prime rental spot for weddings, reunions and other gatherings.
The county's share was a $200,000 loan from the General Fund. But Bob Starr, the county's deputy director for general services, said there hasn't been much progress in paying that back.
At Tuesday's supervisors meeting, the board approved lowering the per-day rental fee to $500 for events without alcohol, down from $700, and $550 for events with alcohol, down from $900. Supervisors didn't change rental fees for partial-day use or by a public agency.
Starr said the reduced fees reflected a county study over the summer of 16 centers in the Yuba-Sutter area offering similar features, and what they charged.
"Obviously, we're trying to figure out where the market might be," he said.
In Yuba-Sutter, price is a consideration, said Lisa Hansen, who operates the Laughing Lotus event center in Marysville, one of the facilities studied.
"It really depends on the client you're going after," she said. "Whatever you charge, you have to be able to back it up with quality and service."
She said she has struggled with lowering her prices to attract more business, though she has had about two dozen bookings in the last half year. In a way, the model airlines use is instructive, she said.
"It's Southwest or Jet Blue versus United," she said. "If you want to fly nothing but full planes, you charge less."
But Montna said he is not convinced the new rental fee structure — already revised a previous time this year — will still be in the right range.
For not much more money, he said, someone can rent the nearby Veterans Memorial Hall, which is also operated by the county, and get more space than Ettl's 3,360 square feet.
"It's got to have something people can use," he said. "If the price is unbearable, they won't use it."
The supervisors' approval also included stepping up a marketing campaign for the hall, including buying an ad in a wedding guide, Starr said.
As well, the board approved the first step to create a new rental fee to include both the hall and an adjoining rose garden.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.