By R.V. Baugus
Venue managers will tell you that they find their most sleepless nights happen when they worry about keeping their guests safe. When word came down from the National Basketball Association the night of Wednesday, March 11, that the season was being suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, General Manager Dave Brown of the American Airlines Center in Dallas said he experienced one particular emotion: relief.
The Mavericks were playing the Denver Nuggets in what will be a historical footnote as the last game the league played before the season took a hiatus. Brown was at the arena for the game and had an opportunity a crowd mood that started in full throttle for a game between two teams that could have met in the playoffs to one that later on became aware through news feeds on telephones what was about to happen, that the game was about to take a very real back seat to a virus that would soon consume the country.
“We couldn’t protect our guests anymore,” Brown said, noting that for the previous two to three weeks the venue had heeded best sanitation practices from the Center for Disease Control. “This had to happen for us to protect our guests. We were doing the things we were told to do and doing it to the best of our abilities but we know now that was not going to make that big a difference.
“I felt a tremendous amount of relief in terms of we don’t have to play that game anymore. We were resigned to the fact that our industry and our world was going to change. We don’t know how that’s going to play out but I feel a lot better sitting here in my office with nobody in the building than I did a week ago with 18,000 people in there that were in harm’s way because of this.”
While outside a full line of cars prepares to enter into a drive-through screening process for the coronavirus, Brown shifts gears to talk about the good that can come out of this national pandemic.
“I think it’s a massive reset for our society,” he said. “I like to use the term, we’ve been so drama-driven the last few years and trying to find a little drama in every situation, good, bad, exploited one way or another. Well, we’ve got it now, and maybe folks will want a little less drama on a daily basis going forward.”
It is impossible to gauge the economic impact that the shutdown has on events at American Airlines Center, just as it is for any other venue in the country. It all depends, of course, on how long venues remain dark.
“It is devastating from the revenue side, but we didn’t cause this,” Brown said. “It’s not like we or our teams screwed up something. I think this gives us a tremendous opportunity to come out of this smarter and stronger and to be better prepared for anything like this in the future. It is such a shock to the system but I think it’s a good reset, as I said, to appreciate what we have and the good times a little bit more. When that first guest walks back in the door – whenever that is – that’s going to be the most important guest that we’ve ever hosted here.”
Had the basketball and hockey seasons played on, Brown’s team was tasked three days later on a Saturday to host a Mavs game at 1 pm and a Dallas Stars game that evening. Even with the NBA announcing the suspension, there was still thought that the league might play games with no fans in attendance. At the time, hockey was still operating as normal with fans. Dealing with both of those scenarios for that particular Saturday weighed on Brown’s mind.
“How do I do that?” Brown asked. “How do I do a closed arena at 1 o’clock and then tell all the employees and people who have to make this building ready when you have guests, OK, come in and let’s get this other show on the road. I couldn’t possibly have been able to do that. Thank goodness the NHL suspended or we would have had a real dilemma here.”
Brown is proud that the arena can help by offering the drive-through testing. He noted that American Airlines Center was not able to participate with relief during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 because “we were up and running, so Reunion Arena became a refuge and the convention center to some degree for a period of time. We couldn’t give back or do anything but this is there for us to help and make a difference to others.”
They are doing that in a way that forces Brown to hark back to his younger days in the industry.
“For logistics I’ve got to go back to my old event coordinator days,” he said. “We are coordinating with the City of Dallas and Dallas County, Parkland Hospital and the Federal government. It’s a big deal and I’ve been working on this since Mayor (Eric) Johnson reached out and asked if we would participate. We were happy we could do something during the crisis and continue to make a difference.”
By Dee Ann Hirsch
Monday, March 23 will forever be a day like none other for me. As I drove away from our venue, I did not know when I would see it again. I fought back tears as I drove by our lagoon and worried who would check on our geese and ducks who have recently stopped there to nest. I wondered who would check on our historic artwork to ensure it was safe and had not been vandalized. I worried about my team that would still have to come in during these uncertain times. It had been hard enough to watch our bookings cancel one after the other, but that hollow feeling of uncertainty I will never forget. For the first time, I was forced to envision my world without my job.
Like many of you, the vast majority of our team is sheltering in place here in the Dallas area, and that means there has been a lot of change for all of us. Our transition to managing our venue from afar is probably not unlike all of yours, but I hope there is comfort knowing each and every one of us is experiencing the same conversations, the same feelings, the same stresses, the same sadness.
To help us transition, there were a few things that happened prior to the “Shelter in Place” order issued by Dallas County. We immediately adjusted our essential staff schedules to help reduce the likelihood of transmission of the virus. Splitting our two work teams into four, and adjusting their days and times to report in a way that would limit exposure to one another. We worked, as did many of you, to obtain additional supplies for cleaning, hand sanitizing and sanitization of restrooms and work spaces.
Workers who could work from home but needed laptops were issued equipment typically used by our internship program, and we worked to identify anyone who did not have the ability to get internet service at home.
Training on how to use the Microsoft 365 applications such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Zoom was provided to those staff members to whom it was most applicable by other tech savvy members of our team. All personnel who would be working from home were instructed to take critical files (electronic and hard copies) with them to minimize having to travel during the shutdown. To assist workers who would still have to travel in to work, we issued a letter that could be given to police or code enforcement should someone be stopped either coming or going from the office.
Of course, we went through the exercises of cost cutting. Slashing our expenses where possible, we shuttered exhibition space, turned off electronics and equipment that would gobble up valuable budget dollars. Our staff drained our fountains, returned rented equipment, and even cleaned out the refrigerator, ensuring no food waste was left in the buildings that could encourage pests. Our team evaluated what services could be cut, eliminated improvement projects, and cancelled trainings and trips. Anything that could be eliminated was either eliminated or significantly reduced. Our accounting team called on outstanding receivables, and looked at ways to manage cash flow. Even our vendor partners evaluated their services to see how they could help us reduce our expenses.
There were additional considerations for Fair Park, as well – we are also a 277-acre public park home to five museums, two performance facilities and several other resident institutions. Understanding who and what was open and closed, and communicating that information to the public had to occur quickly. And as those closures mounted, we began thinking about how to monitor the number of people using the park and what service amenities would remain viable. Ultimately, we reduced the number of vehicular access gates in use from five down to one, and we limited our pedestrian access to only two locations. Public restrooms and drinking fountains were closed. Guests arriving by vehicle were stopped and informed that none of our facilities were open, but they were free to stroll and enjoy the grounds. (Currently in Dallas, public parks and access to them is not restricted; Dallasites are allowed to go for a walk, exercise, ride a bike, etc.) People attempting to enter the park after hours faced more stringent security checks than usual. New protocols were drafted and provided to the security team, complete with additional emergency telephone numbers for staff should they be needed.
And just like that, we were gone. I was the last one to the leave the park on Monday. It was quiet and serene. The lights were coming on for the evening, and it had just rained – the fragrance of the spring shower still hung in the air. Everything looked so normal, but everything had changed. That moment in time is stamped in memory.
We as venue professionals – it is in our DNA to serve. We welcome the opportunity to work when others are relaxing and enjoying their time off. We are often behind the scenes helping to make memories for others. Our work hours can be long and they are almost always fun, but not this day.
Many of our venues are being activated to serve our communities in other ways, as shelters, as storage, as staging, and much more. It is uplifting to see our industry and communities come together again for the common good. While Monday’s memory will always be with me, I will choose to remember all of the good that our venues contribute to the health and well-being of others. It is that thought I will let occupy my mind during this most unusual time.
Stay strong and stay safe venue friends.
Dee Ann Hirsch is Assistant General Manager of Dallas Fair Park.
By R.V. Baugus
Once again, IAVM members are answering the call in times of emergency, and today the biggest crisis throughout the world resides in the pandemic COVID-19 coronavirus. We are sharing below just a sampling of how our member venues are doing their part to assist in any means necessary to help others in need.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU IN TWO WAYS!
— Please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share with the membership. If you have a longer story to tell, we welcome those as well.
— IMPORTANT: Please send high resolution PHOTOS of at least 2MB or 2,000KB to me at the same email address. We would like to put together a compilation of stories told through photos, such as the one you see below from the Vicksburg Convention Center, for both the newsletter and the next issue of Facility Manager. We strongly encourage you to send those to us!
The Vicksburg (MS) Convention Center (managed by VenuWorks) team worked diligently this week to create CDC compliant masks to be distributed for the community, local medical outlets, and emergency responders. They brought sewing machines from home, donated fabric, and put their heart into providing this valuable offering. Their goal is to create at least 50 by week’s end. The design of the masks display super heroes which goes along with the theme of the medical personnel out there working diligently to take care of many. – -Annette Kirklin, executive director
The United Center in Chicago announced that it would become a “logistic hub” for the city, state, and federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the arena itself along with the outside campus will be used in helping food distribution, first responder staging, and collecting medical supplies. “On behalf of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, our athletes, our front offices and our dedicated United Center personnel, our thoughts and support are with the people of this great city and state. Together, we will get through this,” the venue said in a statement.
The local emergency operations center in Asheville, NC, requested to use the Harrah’s Cherokee Center as a point of distribution for supplies, materials and food packs. Additionally, they are today setting up a local COVID- 19 hotline for FAQs, etc., and utilizing the venue’s box office phone system and staff to manage. — Chris Corl, general manager
The Louisiana Department of Health is using the Burton Coliseum Complex as a testing location. Presently, the testing operation is intended to serve a five-parish (county) region. The initial plan calls for testing to take place for the next two weeks or until they exhaust their supply of test kits. No fees will be assessed for this operation. In fact, the government agency that owns the complex (county government agency) authorized me to cover all supporting expenses, such as equipment rentals, signage, and meals. Lastly, our government agency committed to covering all fees for anyone tested without insurance. — Jason Barnes, director
Foodlink is utilizing the Floreano Convention Center in Rochester, NY, as an emergency food supply box packing center. — Meredith Howie, event coordinator
The Richmond (VA) Raceway is being used as a storage location as the county collects supplies and distributes them. We are not charging them for the facility usage. — Megan Hazzard, director of events
I have a group of 275 Volunteers ages 50 to 89. They are amazing people! Every other day I send them a message, a “how to” on how to get groceries delivered to their doorstep. I also send funny pictures of my grandbaby. Next, I will send training points by email that we can all keep adding to and engaging with. — Betsy Boes, FOH & volunteer manager, Luther Burbank Center, Santa Rosa, CA
The Convention Center Authority in Nashville announced a donation of $500,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund on behalf of the Music City Center. The donation will support those in the hospitality industry as well as others in the community who are facing hardship due to the virus. Music City Center is making the contribution solely through its operating revenues. As we face these volatile and uncertain times, the one thing we can all do is find ways to support one another. We cannot predict when businesses will return to any degree of normality and want to offer help to our community of workers and families who have been furloughed or displaced. — Charles Starks, president and CEO, Music City Center
By Rich Thompson
This past Monday, March 23, the VenuWorks-managed Bridge View Center in Ottumwa, Iowa, began their partnership with the Ottumwa YMCA & Ottumwa Community Schools in developing an Emergency Meal Distribution Program, in which we utilize our facility and kitchen to assemble and distribute 1,000 lunches and 1,000 dinners daily to area children, with those numbers looking to increase as warmer weather arrives in a few weeks.
Distribution options include drive-up service during predetermined times at the Bridge View Center, as well as 16 other designated locations community wide. Delivery options are also available in certain circumstances.
Bridge View Center’s Executive Chef Bob Newell and his team of volunteers have been working 14+ hour days in implementing this program, along with their help from Ottumwa Community Schools’ food service managers, and Ottumwa YMCA’s staff and volunteers covering all aspects of sourcing product during these challenging times, food
prep/production, and distribution community-wide.
Bridge View Center’s Administrative team is providing support by fielding calls, handling of all food billing and accounting work, and managing public relations to build awareness of the program.
Bridge View Center’s Operations team are also assisting in cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting all work and food prep areas twice daily to ensure that equipment, materials, and the environment are maintained in a sanitary condition.
As you can see, this is a complete team-wide effort, and we are proud to be able to support such a program, and to effectively impact our community in such a visible way. Our relationships with local media have paid off as well, covering this program and helping us get the word out to parents who are having trouble feeding their children in this difficult time, whether it being for financial reasons, or simply having to fulfill their employment duties. For
example: click here.
Rich Thompson is Sales & Marketing Manager for the Bridge View Center.
By Michalle Riehle-Ludtke
The Los Angeles Convention Center & Levy Restaurants teamed up Musically Fed, a nonprofit that works with artists, promoters, management, and venues nationwide to donate unused, backstage meals to community organizations comprised of at least 50% veterans and focus on feeding the homeless, hungry, and food insecure, to donate and distribute 4,000 pounds of food to the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools benefiting students and their families grades 6-12.
Musically Fed, after being notified of another 4,000-pound surplus, resulting from event cancellations, harnessed relationships garnered during its GRAMMY Awards initiative. In 24 hours, Musically Fed connected with Alliance facilitating a cooperative effort powered by LACC, Levy Restaurants and Musically Fed. This amalgamation of socially-minded organizations successfully provided several bags of free groceries for hundreds of students and their families.
“We are thrilled to share the success of this initiative,” said Ellen Schwartz, General Manager, Los Angeles Convention Center. “As a facility committed to sustainability and community service, Musically Fed was a perfect partner to further our goals to reduce our environmental footprint while serving those in need.”
COVID-19 school closures and the ravaged grocery shelves left in its wake, left many Alliance families ill-prepared due to both the depletion of available food and their dependence on the schools for daily sustenance.
“It was amazing to see how quickly everyone moved for a common good,” commented Jonathan Tiongco, Founding Principal for the Alliance Marine – Innovation & Technology 6-12 Complex, which is part of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. “After a few texts, everyone sent out eblasts and posted to our Facebook parenting boards. Two hours later, hundreds of families showed up with tears of joy in their eyes.”
“Schools and at-risk populations have been all the more acutely impacted by this pandemic,” commented Musically Fed’s CEO, Maria Brunner. “Our amazing partnership with Levy Restaurants and the Los Angeles Convention Center, provides a beacon of light from civic-minded organizations; leveraging their resources and compassion to positively impact so many families, during this otherwise dark time.”
“At Levy, we are continuously looking for new ways to help and give back to the community whenever we can,” said Patrick Smart, General Manager, Taste of LA by Levy, LACC. “Working with Musically Fed during GRAMMYS was such a great experience, we knew they would be the best group to call when we were looking to repurpose food, and ensure our community was benefiting from our donation.”
Michalle Riehle-Ludtke is Marketing & Community Relations Specialist for the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Photo: Levy Restaurants team at the LACC after loading 4,000 pounds of food donations.