Spectra to run Swiftel Center

Register file photo

Council praises Swiftel staff, Spectra plans to retain workers

BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council last week approved a contract between the city and Spectra Venue Management of Philadelphia to operate the Swiftel Center. The contract runs from Aug. 1 and runs to Dec. 31, 2026.

The city-owned Swiftel Center has been managed by VenuWorks of Ames, Iowa.

Background

“The city requested formal proposals from qualified firms to provide venue management services for the Swiftel Center on February 2021,” according to a memo by Erick Rangel, chief financial officer. 

“A Selection Committee composed of city employees and Swiftel Center’s Advisory Board members reviewed, analyzed and compared the two proposals received. The analysis included evaluating the long-term financial impact (both to the city and to the community), treatment of current venue staff, community support, extensive reference checks and new business opportunities proposed among other factors,” according to Rangel’s memo.

“When compared to the other proposal received, Spectra will cost less (allows more investment to the facility and/or community), create greater return to the community, grant more resources, increase attendance, provide better employee support, and has a proven record with peer cities,” according to Rangel’s memo.

Overview of plan

The current contract with VenuWorks has been in place for more than 20 years, and it terminates on July 31, Rangel said at last Tuesday’s meeting.

“Why Spectra?” Rangel said. “They were the best alternative for the city and the community.”

“They will deliver $1.8 million estimated profit margin improvement within five years. That’s $508,000 more than VenuWorks’ proposal,” Rangel said, which will reduce the city’s annual subsidy from $450,000 to $54,000 by year five. Spectra will also contribute $425,000 for investments with no payback.

He gave the council some current financial details on the Swiftel Center’s performance, including operating at a three-year average annual loss of $448,813. The three-year average total fees and commissions comes to $105,933.

VenuWorks’ projected a five-year savings to the city of $1,067,409, while Spectra projected a $1,576,154 five-year savings.

Rangel compared how the both companies’ proposals were constructed financially, with details about the fee structure. VenuWorks will receive 5% of gross sales of food and beverage and 5% of gross sales regardless of performance, whereas Spectra will only get fees “if they perform better than their current baseline,” he said.

Spectra intends to increase the number of event days by 20% and attendance by 45% by the fifth year, which equals $1 million annual incremental economic impact to Brookings, Rangel said.

“Spectra will also extend job offers to all current staff,” Rangel said. Offers will be made at their current salaries with comparable benefits and honor current tenures. Spectra plans to add two full-time employees.

“Spectra has a successful track record of financial performance and community engagement with peer communities,” Rangel said.

“Spectra fosters an innovative culture in their team” and has identified a number of untapped opportunities in Brookings’ market, Rangel said.

Spectra comments

Katie Porco is director of business development for Spectra.

Spectra “collectively operates at about 300 venues throughout North America,” Porco said.

The staff at the Swiftel will have access to all Spectra’s resources, she added.

Spectra wants to expand on what the Swiftel Center is and sees a lot of untapped potential and that “the Swiftel Center can become a complimentary part of our network,” she said.

Because Spectra already has a strong presence in the region, the Swiftel Center “would be a complement to our booking and routing effort,” Porco said.

They have strong relationships with promoters, “and promoters like to work with us because they’re able to give us a call and go ahead and book us from coast-to-coast,” Porco said.

Spectra has 150 sales and marketing executives throughout the country, “and we place a strong emphasis on selling more tickets,” she added.

“We see sponsorship as a huge opportunity,” Porco said, and have sold over 40 naming rights in the past decade.

“The most important part is the employees and the culture here. We know how important it is to the city of Brookings to live with their mission statement,” Porco said. 

“We know about the dedication to leaders listening first and foremost. And that is exactly how Spectra leads. We like to come in, we like to listen, we like to collaborate together,” Porco said.

She promised Spectra will collaborate with existing community entities to host community events and create more of them.

Public comments

Zeno Wicks had concerns about where current Swiftel Center Executive Director Tom Richter would fit into the new plan.

“Perhaps you don’t, as a group, get the idea of how (important) he is to livestock events,” Wicks said, adding he’s part of a group working on bringing a large rodeo to the Swiftel Center.

There’s “an enormous amount of support” for Richter in the world of agriculture, Wicks said, and the city should focus more on the agricultural aspect of the Swiftel Center.

Richter’s reputation is what drew two livestock shows to the Swiftel last summer after they were cancelled in other locations, Wicks said.

“They came because Tom Richter was here and they knew they were gonna be treated correctly,” Wicks said.

Ty Eschenbaum of Lake Poinsett was the president of the National Charolais Association and worked with Richter for years to get the National Charolais show at the Swiftel.

“Nobody in the country thought that Brookings could hold a show of that size,” Eschenbaum said.

“We had about 600 head of cattle and like number of students, participants and their parents,” Eschenbaum said, adding those visitors stayed in the hotels and ate in local restaurants for more than a week.

“We knew if we brought the Charolais here that the country would be watching for livestock shows,” Eschenbaum said, adding their show was immediately followed by the Simmental livestock show. “Then you had a Holstein show after that, and both of those were larger shows. So you had 600 to a thousand students and their parents in Brookings for over 21 days because of that. And a big part of that was the staff.”

Councilor comments

Councilor Leah Brink asked Porco what she meant by saying the Swiftel Center would complement Spectra’s booking and routing strategy.

When events are being booked, the companies like to book coast-to-coast, working their way across the country, Porco said, adding that promoters like to plan out the most efficient route. Spectra is in Grand Forks, N.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; and Ralston, Nebraska, to name a few.

Brink asked how Spectra would recruit agricultural shows to the Swiftel.

“We know that this is an important aspect of this building, and it came up in many meetings that we have,” Porco said. They are committed to working with ag groups to bring events to the Swiftel.

Councilor Nick Wendell had noticed Spectra planned to bring in two additional staff and wondered where those staff would be placed.

Rick Hontz, regional vice president with Spectra, wants the marketing person to be solely responsible for ticket sales “and get more people here,” he said.

“One of the new positions will be a sponsorship sales position,” Hontz said. That person will be responsible for “selling the building.” Spectra has a whole division that works on selling naming rights.

“The other one is the assistant G.M. (general manager),” Hontz said. “That person could be a booking person, where they’re solely responsible for booking the major shows. That frees the G.M. up to do other things.”

Wendell asked about Spectra’s experience in communities that have universities and working with the ag industry.

Spectra has “quite a few” facilities that work with the ag industry, Hontz said, listing some in Texas and Idaho.

“We actually run a lot of university buildings,” Hontz said, adding they have an internship program and teach classes. “So we do integrate ourselves quite a bit in those university settings.”

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne echoed earlier comments about keeping the staff. She asked how Spectra planned to bring the current Swiftel staff into Spectra’s culture.

Hontz said Spectra would meet with the staff the next day. 

“Change is hard, and it’s scary sometimes. We want to convey to the employees that we heard nothing but great things about them” and want to keep them as part of the team, Hontz said.

“We just add resources to what they’re doing and maybe show them creative ideas, how to do things a little bit differently,” Hontz said.

Porco said they want to make them feel like they are part of the Spectra team and there will be lots of visits from Spectra staff “to wrap their arms around them.” There might be opportunities in the future for the Swiftel staff to visit other Spectra sites.

Tilton Byrne mentioned the strong connection the city has with Richter and how well he keeps the council informed about what’s happening at the Swiftel Center. She wanted to know how that connection could be maintained.

“It’s important for all of our G.M.’s to ingrain themselves into the community and with the city and follow the city values, Hontz said

Councilor Joey Collins said the staff staying was a big selling point for him, then addressed the members of the staff.

“I hope you all stay because you guys are what makes the Swiftel Center a success. It all comes from the top, Tom, that’s all from you on down,” Collins said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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