10. Tyson Events Center braced for competition from Sioux Falls, Lincoln

As Sioux City prepares to contract with Spectra Venue Management for day-to-day operations of the Tyson Events Center, shown above, and Orpheum Theatre, city leaders are speaking with the firm about how to handle the city's tourism bureau moving forward. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | One touted the importance of local control, the other the advantages of its corporation's range of connections. 

Representatives from the city's Events Facilities Department and from the venue management firm Spectra pitched competing visions for the future of the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre Tuesday afternoon during a three-hour informational session attended by city officials.

The Sioux City Council will now consider and eventually choose one of the proposals to assume management of the venues, which the city currently runs.  

Earlier this year, Sioux City had put out a request for proposals from private firms for management of the Tyson and Orpheum. Investigating such a move had been recommended by the consultant Venue Solutions Group during a recent management audit. 

In response, the city received proposals from the Philadelphia-based Spectra and Ames, Iowa-based Venuworks. A city-appointed panel decided to only move forward with consideration of Spectra's proposal.

Meanwhile, the city prepared its own proposal for continued public management of the two venues as a comparison. 

The city's presentation Tuesday afternoon -- given to members of the City Council and Orpheum and Events Facilities boards -- focused on a series of tweaks that could decrease the city's investment in the venues over the next five years while maintaining public management.

Events Facilities director Erika Newton laid out a series of projects that could create $1.5 million in net revenue.

Newton pitched new concession concepts and an increase in premium seating. She said she wants to bring more of a "Sioux City flair" to the venue. Regarding future projects, she said, she wants to focus on ones that will increase revenue. 

"We want to focus on projects that can bring additional money to our bottom line," she said. 

Newton said areas of focus under a revamped public management that could provide impact would include increased booking and concert volume, generating more sponsorship revenue and re-allocating employee job responsibilities to streamline the work. 

Newton said the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City has committed to bring a minimum of six concerts per year to the Tyson at no cash risk to the city, which would provide an estimated $1.025 million in revenue after five years, although she conceded that such an offer may also be extended to a private management firm.

Newton additionally stressed the advantages of local control in dealing with local organizations. 

"We have a lot of partners that are very hands-on in what they want to see happen in the buildings themselves, and once you put a layer in there, you start to have maybe some objections to some things or maybe it doesn't align with what a company wants to do," she said. 

Spectra -- a Philadelphia-based firm that serves more than 150 venue management clients in the U.S. and Canada -- brought in six members of its team, including two representatives of the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, for the presentation.  

Touting the large umbrella of the corporation, which is owned by the parent company of NBC Universal, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Spectra showed results of several other venues that had saved $200,000 or more in their first year with the company.

For Sioux City, the company projects a $235,000 subsidy reduction during the first year and a cumulative of $1.1 million over three years. Those amounts include Spectra’s management fees, which will be a base of $110,000 per year.   

Tom McDonnell, director of business development and client relations, said Spectra plans to bring 58 more events to the two venues during the course of the first three-year contract, made possible by the company’s connections and clout within the industry.

Regional vice president Rick Hontz said the company manages in several similar-sized markets and sees the potential in Sioux City. 

"We see the shows that are coming right now, and we see that the staff is doing a tremendous job with what they have," he said. "And now we're here saying, 'What can we do to take it to the next level?'" 

Locally, Spectra said it would work with the Hard Rock, as well as form relationships with the Bandits, Musketeers and Sioux City Symphony. Representatives said they see potential for increased family shows at the Tyson Events Center and have connections that could help the city have better shots at competing for events with Sioux Falls' Denny Sanford Premier Center.

Asked by the council about retaining current employees, Hontz said Spectra has an average retention rate of around 90 percent and would prioritize hiring Sioux City workers who are on board with its mission. 

McDonnell said the belief that a city loses control when it goes to private management is a misconception. 

"We're really an extension of the city," McDonnell said. "The city and boards would still work very closely with Spectra and would have a great amount of approval in terms of hiring our general manager and in terms of booking and scheduling policies." 

With the proposals and details now public, the city’s Events Facilities Department and the Orpheum Theatre Board will make recommendations to the Sioux City Council. City manager Bob Padmore said there is no hard timetable for the decision, but that it will be in the near future. 

After the meeting, Councilman Dan Moore said he was pleased by both presentations and was prepared to do some analysis and see what the local boards' recommendations would be. 

"I think we need to look at budgets, I think we need to look hard at numbers, I think we need to look at what’s being proposed, what’s being guaranteed, and what the performance will be by Spectra," he said. "We know what the city’s performance is, and it’s been very good.”

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