SIOUX CITY | When the Sioux City Musketeers faced the Omaha Lancers Sunday night at the Tyson Events Center, it was more than just an early-season hockey game.
The contest marked the final event held at the Tyson under city management for the foreseeable future.
The following day, Sioux City switched day-to-day operations at the Tyson and the Orpheum Theatre over to Spectra, a Philadelphia-based venue management firm. While Sioux City still owns the Tyson, and the Orpheum continues to be independently owned, Spectra will now be responsible for day-to-day operations including booking, marketing, staffing and food and beverage service.
Thursday afternoon, when the CNOS Foundation Basketball Classic tips off, it will be the first event under the Tyson's new management.
Spectra leadership said event-goers shouldn't expect any differences right away. But as the months progress, Spectra staff said they can look forward to improved customer service, new concession items and more events.
"I wouldn't say they're going to see a change immediately," Rick Hontz, a regional vice president with Spectra, told The Journal Wednesday morning. "Over the next couple months, you will see some differences to enhance the fan experience."
Hontz said some examples include encouragement for employees to go "above and beyond" in their customer service to event-goers, and surveys that will ask event-goers what they want to see regarding customer service, events and concessions at the venue.
Spectra's food and beverage team is also in conversations to bring in new menus and food options, with an emphasis on Sioux City flavors through partnerships with local businesses.
Since the Sioux City Council approved its venue management and food services contracts with Spectra last month, much of the transition has included human resources paperwork and training regarding new employee duties. Hontz said Spectra will also be training employees on its customer service procedures.
"It's going to take a month or two, so it's not going to be like a light switch, where we turn it on and we're good," he said. "We're lucky that we walked into a situation where it wasn't broken. They have a great staff here, and all we're going to do is put in some policies, procedures, some of our experience in how to generate more revenue, in place."
As promised, Spectra has offered positions with its company to every city Events Facilities Department employee, Hontz said.
Tyson and Orpheum general manager Erika Newton, who formerly directed Sioux City's Events Facilities Department, said approximately 125 full- and part-time city employees made the switch to Spectra's employ. That included nine full-time city employees.
Six city full-timers did not make the transition, of which two have retired and others have accepted separate jobs with the city.
Spectra has said everyone who accepted positions was re-hired at the same pay level.
Newton said the returning staff will help ease the transition.
"It'll bring a lot of consistency to what we're trying to do," she said.
Spectra plans to hold a job fair to hire more part-time employees, Hontz said. The company is also shifting some positions and placing a higher emphasis on marketing and sales to increase revenue. Certain marketing responsibilities that were previously handled by a third-party will now be in-house, Hontz said, and the company has hired a director of marketing for Sioux City -- a brand-new position -- who will start work Jan. 15.
"We're going to be getting the word out there better, making sure every event is marketed correctly," Hontz said. "Which basically just means more business for the building, more business to the promoters bringing the shows in."
As of Thursday, Spectra still had openings for a director of operations, event manager, administrative assistant, assistant box office manager and accounting clerk, Hontz said. But he said the venue has adequate staff to run events as it continues hiring. He eventually expects the number of employees will be similar to what the city formerly had.
Several employees of Centerplate, the city's former caterer, also transitioned to Spectra's food and beverage services department, which took over concessions at the Tyson, IBP Ice Center and Sioux Gateway Airport from Centerplate at the beginning of this year.
A separate company, Kinseth Hospitality Inc., has taken over food and beverage services from Centerplate at the Sioux City Convention Center, which Kinseth also now manages.
Spectra projects it will cut $270,000 from the city's subsidy in the first year through increased events and sponsorship revenue. Hontz said the savings will not come from an increase in ticket or suite prices.
"There's no price increases whatsoever," Hontz said. "It's all based on revenue opportunities and advertising sponsorships and trying to make the events more profitable by bringing more people here -- not by increasing prices."
As part of its venue management proposal, Spectra outlined plans to bring in 58 new events over three years -- 32 at the Orpheum and 26 at the Tyson. Those discussions are underway, Hontz said, and the company will be allocating the equivalent of 1 1/2 employees to booking.
Physical transitions will also begin this year, including upgrades to the Tyson Events Center's kitchen. Spectra will make a $200,000 capital contribution to the city for improvements at the venues and another $300,000 for food and beverage equipment upgrades, according to its contracts.
Spectra has also taken over the city's tourism bureau. Hontz said the bureau's efforts -- which have traditionally supported the annual Mardi Gras Big Parade, the Sioux City Foodie video series and some marketing -- will remain status quo for now as it awaits more direction from the city.
"We're completely relying on the city on the direction in what they want to see in the future," he said. "Right now it's business as usual."
VERMILLION, S.D. | Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and just right for Dar Ellis of Diesel Machinery in Sioux Falls, as he sold a piece of farm equipment as the 35th annual Dakota Farm Show opened inside the DakotaDome on the campus of the University of South Dakota.
Price tag: $135,000.
"The customer is coming back this afternoon to pay me for it," said Ellis.
The JCB TM 320, per Ellis, can load feed, manure, pallets, dirt and just about anything else on the farm.
You can buy just about anything else for the farm, or a residence, for that matter, inside the DakotaDome through 4 p.m. Friday, when the show closes. Some 300 exhibitors showing off more than 1,000 product lines welcome an estimated 25,000 customers into the toasty DakotaDome for this event, one that tells me spring is just around the corner.
Doug Zobel, of Freeman, South Dakota, scouted fencing options on Wednesday morning as his wife, Jean Zobel, rested in a place where, a few weeks ago, fans stood to cheer on the USD football team.
Jean Zobel had one knee replaced in August, the other replaced in December. She and Doug arrived at the Dakota Farm Show as it opened at 9 a.m., beating the rush, in essence, so Jean could walk the aisles as part of her rehab assignment.
"I got a half-mile walk in this morning," she said. "Now, I'm just waiting for my husband. I love to sit here and watch people."
The Zobels don't travel for fun, rather they head to farm shows to pass the cold-weather blahs. She called this day, and days like it at shows in Sioux Falls and Omaha, their winter vacation.
Vacation might have been the farthest thing from the minds of 24 Bomgaars staffers as they answered questions, stacked boxes and helped customers through an organized maze of thousands of DeWalt tools, a staple for Bomgaars, a Sioux City-based retailer that operates in seven Midwest and western states.
Just over two decades ago, the Bomgaars presence at the Dakota Farm Show was a bit more than a blip, a business that occupied one 4-foot booth space. Bomgaars now has the space equivalent of 14 booths.
It's like a city block of bright yellow DeWalt boxes with farmers, contractors and city dwellers scooping up everything from 99-cent grinding wheels to a 7.5-horsepower 2-stage air compressor priced at $2,699.
I met Bomgaars employees from Cherokee, Sioux Center, Rock Valley and Omaha, to name a few locations. Jay Jelkin, regional manager for DeWalt Tools, missed the 2017 Farm Show due to the flu.
"I've been to this show 18 years and last year was the first one I missed," he said. "This (show) is my baby. I remember taking some calls last year while I was laying in bed."
Customers, he said, will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for DeWalt tools at the Dakota Farm Show.
It's a sea change from the Bomgaars of old that handed out coupons at the Dakota Farm Show.
"Yes, I remember handing out coupons for 15 percent off," said Jim Nelson, a Bomgaars employee from Cherokee. "Those coupons were good for two weeks. So, yes, it's changed."
Among the more popular items are those carrying the Flexvolt name, a newbie here for DeWalt one year ago. Flexvolt equipment meets the demand of tools that require high power and long run-time.
Ronald Sebade, of Wayne, Nebraska, checked out some Flexvolt items, as well as many others. Sebade said he loves doing business with Bomgaars and noted he spent $1,000 on Bomgaars gift certificates for friends and employees this Christmas season.
Chris Slothower, a Bomgaars employee from Rock Valley, Iowa, said the store there sold a couple of customers between $8,000 and $9,000 in gift certificates this Christmas.
"This is fun," said Le Mars resident Brian Junck, Bomgaars manager at the Sioux Center site. "We brought four truckloads of tools in here on Tuesday and we'll go get more."
Doug Savage, who works for Bomgaars in Sioux City, helped managed the sprawling collection of yellow DeWalt boxes on the floor of the DakotaDome, mentioning that Quincy Air Compressors were also part of their business mix here.
"This helps with putting Bomgaars on the map as a DeWalt destination store," he said. "Bomgaars is the largest Midwest dealer of DeWalt."
Speaking of the map, Savage noted that Bomgaars, when it began with its lone booth at the Dakota Farm Show during the 1990s, had 12 stores. Today? There are 84.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war.
The sudden signs of easing hostilities, however, came as President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat earlier this week.
In his New Year's address Monday, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said he has a "nuclear button" on his desk and that all U.S. territory is within striking distance of his nuclear weapons — comments Trump latched onto Tuesday when he boasted of a bigger and more powerful "nuclear button" than Kim's.
The two leaders exchanged crude insults last year, as the North received new U.N. sanctions over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test explosion and a series of intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
The White House on Wednesday defended Trump's Twitter message to Kim.
"I don't think that it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding that people should be concerned about Kim's "mental fitness."
Pressed on Trump's claim about nuclear capabilities, Sanders said, "I think it's just a fact."
The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there's no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate.
Outside critics say Kim may be trying to use better ties with South Korea as a way to weaken the alliance between Washington and Seoul as the North grapples with toughened international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.
Kim's latest announcement, which was read by a senior Pyongyang official on state TV, followed a South Korean offer on Tuesday of high-level talks with North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South and discuss other inter-Korean issues.
Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, cited Kim as welcoming South Korea's overture and ordering officials to reopen a communication channel at the border village of Panmunjom. Ri also quoted Kim as ordering officials to promptly take substantial measures with South Korea out of a "sincere stand and honest attitude," according to the North's state TV and news agency.
South Korea quickly welcomed Kim's decision and later confirmed that the two Koreas began preliminary contacts on the channel. During their 20-minute communication, liaison officials of the two Koreas exchanged their names and examined their communication lines to make sure they were working, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.
Since taking office last May, South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in has pushed hard to improve ties and resume stalled cooperation projects with North Korea. Pyongyang had not responded to his outreach until Kim's New Year's address.
Relations between the Koreas soured under Moon's conservative predecessors, who responded to the North's expanding nuclear program with hard-line measures. All major rapprochement projects were put on hold one by one, and the Panmunjom communication channel had been suspended since February 2016.
Moon has joined U.S.-led international efforts to apply more pressure and sanctions on North Korea, but he still favors dialogue as a way to resolve the nuclear standoff. The Trump administration says all options are on the table, including military measures against the North. Moon has repeatedly said he opposes any war on the Korean Peninsula.
Some observers believe these differences in views may have led Kim to think he could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken their alliance and international sanctions.
Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons.
After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats, analysts say.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a scathing attack on former top adviser Steve Bannon on Wednesday, responding to a new book that portrays Trump as an undisciplined man-child who didn't actually want to win the White House and quotes Bannon as calling his son's contact with a Russian lawyer "treasonous."
Hitting back via a formal White House statement rather than a more-typical Twitter volley, Trump insisted Bannon had little to do with his victorious campaign and "has nothing to do with me or my Presidency."
"When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Trump said.
It was a blistering attack against the man who helped deliver the presidency to Trump. It was spurred by an unflattering new book by writer Michael Wolff that paints Trump as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of the presidency and spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the phone to old friends.
Later Wednesday, Trump attorney Charles Harder threatened legal action against Bannon over "disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements."
Harder sent a letter to Bannon saying the former Trump aide violated confidentiality agreements by speaking with Wolff. The letter demanded Bannon "cease and desist" any further disclosure of confidential information. Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House aides were blindsided when early excerpts from "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" were published online by New York magazine and other media outlets ahead of the Jan. 9 publication date.
The release left Trump "furious" and "disgusted," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who complained that the book contained "outrageous" and "completely false claims against the president, his administration and his family."
Asked what specifically had prompted the president's fury with Bannon, she said: "I would certainly think that going after the president's son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody."
In the book, an advance copy of which was provided to The Associated Press, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." The meeting has become a focus of federal and congressional investigators.
Bannon also told Wolff the investigations into potential collusion between Russia and Trump campaign officials would likely focus on money laundering.
"They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV," Bannon was quoted as saying in one section that was first reported by The Guardian.
A spokeswoman for Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. Trump Jr. lashed out in a series of tweets, including one that said Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the Breitbart News site that Bannon now runs, "would be ashamed of the division and lies Steve Bannon is spreading!"
Bannon, who was forced out of his White House job last summer, was not surprised or particularly bothered by the blowback, according to a person familiar with his thinking but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. That person said Bannon vowed on Wednesday to continue his war on the Republican establishment and also predicted that, after a cooling-off period, he'd continue to speak with Trump, who likes to maintain contact with former advisers even after he fires and sometimes disparages them.
Sanders said Bannon and Trump last spoke in the first part of last month.
The former-and-current Breitbart News head has told associates that he believes Trump has been ill-served by some his closest allies, including eldest son Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. Bannon believes they have exposed Trump to the Russia probe that could topple his presidency and that Trump would be able to accomplish more without them.
So far, there is no indication that Bannon is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But the House intelligence committee has invited him, along with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for a closed-door interview as a part of the panel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the invitation.
Trump, up until Wednesday, had been complimentary of Bannon, saying in October that the two "have a very good relationship" and had been friends for "a long time."
In the book, Bannon also speaks critically of Trump's daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka, calling her "dumb as a brick."
"A little marketing savvy and has a look but as far as understanding actually how the world works and what politics is and what it means — nothing," he is quoted saying.
New York magazine also published a lengthy adaptation of the book on Wednesday, in which Wolff writes that Trump believed his presidential nomination would boost his brand and deliver "untold opportunities" — but that he never expected to win.
It says Trump Jr. told a friend that his father looked as if he'd seen a ghost when it became clear he might win. The younger Trump described Melania Trump as "in tears — and not of joy."
The first lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, disputed that, saying Mrs. Trump supported her husband's decision to run, encouraged him to do so and was happy when he won.
"The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section," Grisham said in a statement.