When Johnstown’s Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center opened in May 2003, officials expected the facility to break even by 2007.

Now, they do not anticipate meeting that goal for another two years.

But the center’s business continues to grow, and administrators say they have gained a foothold in a competitive conference industry where events often are booked years in advance.

“I think things are going well,” said Melissa Radovanic, the center’s sales and marketing director.

Radovanic works for Johnstown-based Crown American Hotels, which has a 20-year agreement to manage the city-owned center.

Crown assumes all financial losses until the Napoleon Street facility breaks even.

The city eventually will share in any profits.

So there is no immediate economic risk for Johnstown officials, and City Hall staff have maintained a good relationship with administrators at the conference center just a few blocks away.

“If you look at their numbers, they’ve been improving,” City Manager Curt Davis said.

“They’re moving forward.”

When it comes to size, Johnstown’s center cannot directly compete with complexes in much larger cities. Also, resort-based conference facilities offer amenities that the Pasquerilla center cannot match.

So administrators have at-tempted to carve out a niche, in part by heavily promoting what Radovanic calls the “small-town atmosphere” in Johnstown.

“We have been able to lure them with more of a hometown, safe feel,” she said.

Marketing efforts include sales calls and direct-mail campaigns.

Also, administrators attend two to four trade shows annually.

Large, multiday meetings are a prize catch in the conference industry. The Pasquerilla center has landed some of those, and Radovanic said the state tax collectors association – which met here in 2004 – plans to return this year.

“We want our focus to be on bringing people in from out of town,” she said.

The facility also gets plenty of local use for events including meetings and banquets. The center has attracted gatherings of as few as seven people and as many as 1,100 people.

“We have a lot of holiday parties,” Radovanic said. “We do a lot of wedding receptions also, and that’s been a great success.”

The center’s staff has worked with local merchants and officials in an attempt to capitalize on conference crowds.

But Radovanic said a lack of downtown recreation remains an obstacle. And she added that administrators would like to physically connect the center with Cambria County War Memorial Arena and the city’s parking garage at Walnut and Vine streets, possibly by building a covered walkway.

“We’ve lost business on account of the buildings not being connected,” Radovanic said.

Nonetheless, the center’s revenues are increasing. And Radovanic is working far ahead, with two conferences already booked for June 2009.

“I’m really impressed with what we’re doing,” she said.

“We’ve hosted events bigger than I ever anticipated.”

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