11.2.2021 Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Kim Niemer as Director of Development Services. Her current title is Director of Community Services.

Advance Redding, a non-profit started by Redding’s megachurch, Bethel, has managed the Redding Civic Auditorium for the last ten years. Earlier this year, as the city’s contract with Advance Redding neared its end, the Redding City Council agreed to renegotiate new lease terms rather than putting out a request for proposals for the contract.

How Advance Redding might interact with the city in the future has become a subject of greater community interest since the announcement of a proposal by a consortium of two non-profits and two development companies to master-plan and redevelop the Redding riverfront area, including the Civic grounds. That consortium, which refers to itself as the D&D group, has called both Advance Redding and the Redding Rodeo Association “key stakeholders” in the redevelopment process and said they are being asked to “reimagine” the future of the properties with the developers and the city. Both have current leases for the land that is being considered for redevelopment.

The D&D group has made a special effort to include both Advance Redding and the Redding Rodeo Association in the process of making their proposal public. McConnell Foundation COO Shannon Phillips says the team began communicating with both organizations on September 3, the day after the first staff report about the proposal went out to the Redding City Council.

Rocky Slaughter, Director of Operations for K2 Development Companies, confirmed this, telling Shasta Scout that while the boards of both the McConnell Foundation and Turtle Bay Exploration Park were included in discussions in the months leading up to submitting the  proposal to the city, Advance Redding was not involved until the proposal became public. 

Advance Redding’s General Manager, Julie Dyar says the Advance Redding board first met with members of the D&D group on September 16th, a little more than a week after the D&D proposal was first slated to be discussed in a closed city council meeting.  She says at that time the Advance Redding board agreed to support the process of informing the public about the option of redevelopment. 

Were Advance Redding’s Lease Negotiations Impacted by the Riverfront Development Proposal?

Kim Niemer, Redding’s Director of Community Services, says delays in negotiation for the Civic lease were not impacted by the riverfront development proposal. City Manager Barry Tippin agreed, saying that the Advance Redding negotiations were impacted by the COVID surge and by changes in Advance Redding’s board, but not by the proposal. 

Dyar also blames the pandemic for the delays. “I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing ‘COVID’ as the explanation for everything,” Dyar said. “However I am confident we would have concluded negotiations well ahead of the end of our current lease if we had not been dealing with the effect of the pandemic.” 

Phillips said while she’s not aware of any direct impact of the proposal on lease negotiations, the D&D group was well aware of the timing of the leases for both the Redding Rodeo Association and Advance Redding and hoped the project could align well with new lease terms. She said the group has also considered how Bethel Church’s new building project might impact leasing of the Civic.

“Years ago, when (the city) entered into a lease with Advance Redding, they were either going to have to enter into a lease or lose the Civic,” Phillips said. “This (redevelopment) project may line up for the next natural chapter of the Civic.”

Redding Civic Auditorium Ticket Window
Redding Civic Auditorium Ticket Window

Advance Redding’s Pandemic Losses, and Recovery

Advance Redding’s finances were deeply affected by the COVID pandemic, as the venue was closed and events cancelled. Dyar says Advance Redding lost $3 million in gross revenue over the last year and a half of the pandemic. She didn’t comment on the percentage of revenue that number represents, but for perspective, in 2019 the non-profit earned almost $1.6 million in revenue with a net loss of $157,000. 

That $3 million in gross revenue loss had left Advance Redding behind in payments to the city. But a few weeks ago, Dyar says, Advance Redding was finally awarded a Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG) after a long wait. Niemer confirmed that Advance Redding has used those funds for back lease payments and is now current on payments. She cautioned perspective about Advance Redding’s history of late payments, saying “These (events facilities) were some of the worst hit businesses in the state.”  

Dyar says Advance Redding requested rent abatement from the city early in 2021, but later tabled that request when state SVOG funds became available. In addition to those funds, Advance Redding has received another $36,000 from other grant funding, Dyar said, as well as just under $300,000 in PPP funding.

Dyar said Bethel Church has continued to make lease payments to Advance Redding during the pandemic, although she did not confirm whether those were full or partial payments or how much the payments were. 

Advance Redding’s Continued Interest In Civic Management—and More

Despite the financial difficulties of the last 18 months, Dyar says Advance Redding continues to have an interest in operating the Civic. “We’ve taken on a tremendous amount of risk and effort to reestablish the venue—and Redding—as a viable market for the (events) industry,” Dyar said.  

Dyar says Bethel Church anticipates utilizing the Redding Civic Auditorium for another 7–10 years while they build their new church facility. But even once Bethel no longer needs the facility for its ministry students, Dyar says, Advance Redding will continue to have a role to play in the community.  She says the work of building the events facility and events industry in Redding have “nothing to do with BSSM. That’s about wanting more for our community.” Bethel Church Communications did not respond to a request for comment, citing changes in staffing.

Advance Redding has “a variety of ideas floating around” for how they might expand their work with the city in the future, Dyar says. Earlier this year, Advance Redding was among more than a dozen applicants who submitted proposals for Redding’s tourism and marketing contract. Dyar says that contract felt like “a natural fit for a variety of reasons,” and Advance Redding continues to lend support to the Chamber of Commerce, who were awarded the contract. 

She says Advance Redding is focused on navigating the events industry as it starts to emerge from the pandemic, but as things settle they may have a better idea of what will come next for the organization.

Redding Civic Auditorium Dedication Plaque
Redding Civic Auditorium Dedication Plaque

How Bethel Church Won the Contract to Manage the Civic Center

Despite some ongoing community controversy about the organization, Kim Niemer, Redding’s Director of Development, says renegotiating the contract to continue to work with Advance Redding was a simple decision for the city to make. While other cities often pay contractors to manage their events centers and take a risk on the share of promotions, she says, Advance Redding’s agreement with the city is unique and favorable because “they pay us.”

It was that feature of their proposal that gained Advance Redding the contract with the city in 2011. Discussions about the future of the Civic began in 2009 when Redding’s City Manager Kurt Starman reached out to the Community Services Advisory Commission (CSAC), a citizen board that now provides oversight of the Civic contract, asking them to study the idea of privatizing the Civic. CSAC had difficulty finding an organization interested in becoming private owners of the Civic and told the Council so in 2010, noting that over the next ten years the city would also need to spend approximately $2.4 million on overdue maintenance for the building. 

By mid-2011, with expenses ($2.1 million) far exceeding revenue ($600,000), the city was considering closing the Civic. More than a quarter of the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue, a general fund source, was going to support the Civic at a time when deficits were causing cuts across core public safety sectors in the city. 

On August 1, 2011, the Redding City Council considered two proposals for public/private partnerships to manage the Civic and prevent its closure. The first was from Mesa Productions, a local organization with experience in holding events at the Civic. The Mesa proposal included a two-year contract with optional renewals of up to two years, asked the city to continue to pay for two full-time staff at the Civic, and required a cash subsidy from the City to help with the transition process to Mesa management.

The second proposal came from Bethel Church, which proposed forming a non-profit entity “Cornerstone Management Services” (later named Advance Redding) to manage the Civic. Their terms appeared more favorable to the City: a five-year term with an option for a five-year extension; capital improvements to the building; and promised lease payments beginning at $180,000 annually and increasing to $420,000 annually over the life of the lease. Bethel Church would utilize the building for their ministry students, but would also agree to hold at least 60 non-Bethel-related events each year. The Church would use ministry student labor to help run the Civic. 

During a period of contentious public comment during the August 1, 2011 Council meeting,  citizens expressed concerns ranging from Bethel’s lack of experience running events to the involvement of a religious organization in a local events venue. Ultimately, the Council chose Bethel Church’s proposal because of the promised stream of rental income not provided by the Mesa proposal.

Bethel Church’s Theology and Advance Redding Civic Management

Ten years later, Niemer says the city’s partnership with Advance Redding “works because of the unique circumstances,” most notably the lease of the Civic facility to Bethel Church for their School of Supernatural Ministry. But using the Civic for BSSM has continued to concern some Redding community members, who worry the arrangement runs afoul of the separation of church and state. 

One aspect of Bethel Church’s theology, known as the Seven Mountains Mandate, heightens local concerns about church/state separation. The Seven Mountains Mandate is also espoused by other parts of a Christian movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Bethel leaders explain the teaching as a call for Christians to partner with God to take dominion over the “seven mountains” of society to make earth more like heaven. Some in Redding wonder what a heavenly society would look like for Bethel Church leaders, who have a history of political lobbying against the LGBTQ+ community, incorrectly prophesying that Trump would win the 2020 election, making misogynistic statements in ministry videos, and comparing the COVID vaccine to “the mark of the beast”.

While Advance Redding is a separate entity from Bethel Church, several key leaders of the non-profit also manage Bethel Church. Advance Redding does not have a website, but Dyar confirmed that current Advance Redding board members include Bethel Senior Leaders Kris Vallotton and Charlie Harper. Kris Vallotton is Bethel’s Senior Associate Leader, the cofounder of BSSM, and recognized as the church’s senior “prophet”. Harper is Bethel Church’s Administrator and project manager and is also listed on Advance Redding’s contract as the Chief Financial Officer of Advance Redding. Andy Mason, who runs Bethel’s Heaven in Business ministry, also sits on the board. Over the years since Advance Redding began operating, directors of the organization have also included Julie Winter, a Bethel elder who is also a Redding City Council member, and Sheri Silk, the wife of a Bethel Senior Leader.  

But Niemer says concerns that Bethel might censor what kinds of artists perform at the Civic, or use the building primarily for church purposes, have never materialized. “We had built into the contract requirements for a minimum number of non-church and non-school-related events,” she continues, ”which Bethel exceeded in the first year.” Niemer says there’s a “bright line between the operation of the civic and ministry of the church…and the Civic has continued to offer a diverse and wide variety of entertainment.’

Recent reporting by Shasta Scout indicates that BSSM, which meets at the Civic, is not following indoor mask mandates. Advance Redding did not respond to questions about why they are not enforcing those mandates for BSSM students at the Civic Center.

We’ve made Advance Redding’s lease contract with the city available here, with amendments here, here, here and here.

Disclosure: Annelise Pierce is a former member of Bethel Church.

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