New leaders to guide Premier Center complex into next stage of life

April 8, 2019

By Rob Swenson, for SiouxFalls.Business

Mike Krewson’s career in facilities and event management has taken him across the United States, from college in California to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Florida to landlocked Sioux Falls, with a few other stops along the way.

Despite its name, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea wasn’t in the ocean. It was a former attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando that Krewson helped operate early in his career. Now, he is the new general manager in Sioux Falls for SMG and will be leading staff management of five city-owned facilities: the Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls Convention Center, Sioux Falls Arena, Orpheum Theater Center and Sioux Falls Stadium.

Krewson has been in the guest and facility industry for more than 30 years and has worked at five venues. Before his move to Sioux Falls, he oversaw operations at McLane Stadium, a 45,000-seat facility at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Locally, Krewson is teaming up with Jim Johnson, SMG’s new assistant general manager in Sioux Falls.

Johnson, a University of Virginia graduate, has more than 20 years in the industry. Most recently, he was the director of event services for facilities in Stockton, Calif. He also has worked in Atlanta.

Johnson started working in Sioux Falls in November, and Krewson began in early March. The two men had met before, but this is their first time working together. Krewson replaced Terry Torkildson; Johnson succeeded Chris Semrau.

Johnson, who is married and has a 14-year-old daughter, has had a little more time to experience the city. He said he’s impressed with Sioux Falls and the facilities he will help manage.

“The city has done a good job with its quality of life – the park system and everything there is to do,” Johnson said. “I really like the feel of the town. Everyone has got that Midwestern nice, that friendliness, but it offers the amenities of a bigger city.”

Krewson jokes that his initial impression was that Sioux Falls would be colder. He looks to forward to seeing and experiencing more of the area, he said.

Krewson, who is single, grew up in Northern California. His first job after graduating from California State University in Sacramento was as a tennis instructor at a youth camp in Massachusetts, the home state of his beloved Boston Red Sox, one of Major League Baseball’s most legendary franchises. Before getting into facility management, he briefly pursued a career as a professional umpire.

He started working with attractions at Disney World in 1988 and moved into guest relations. He got started in the facility business in 1993 in Charleston, N.C., and has worked in other cities, including Nashville.

In Sioux Falls, Krewson will oversee about 25 full-time employees. The facilities also employ dozens of part-time workers who assist with events.

If a pending business merger gets regulatory approval, Krewson and Johnson soon could be working for a newly formed and renamed entity that will be the largest facility-management company in the world.

AEG Facilities, a venue-management subsidiary of AEG, and SMG, an Onex portfolio company, announced in February that they have signed an agreement to merge. This combination will create a global facility-management and venue-services company that will operate as ASM Global and be based in Los Angeles.

National business publications report that the planned merger is bringing together the two largest facility-management companies in the world. Together, they have more than 300 venues under contract.

Outlook for local facilities and events

Overall, facilities in Sioux Falls are better than comparable facilities in other similar cities, Krewson said.

“The Denny is a great building. The Convention Center is great convention space,” he said. There are issues with the Arena and the baseball stadium, but the community is addressing them, he said.

The Orpheum is located downtown, a couple of miles away from the events center campus in northwest Sioux Falls. The Washington Pavilion, which also is owned by the city, is downtown, too, but has its own management team.

The events center campus also includes Howard Wood Field, a football and track stadium owned by the Sioux Falls School District.

A 13-member task force appointed by Mayor Paul TenHaken is evaluating the needs and future of the city facilities on the events center campus. Any recommendations offered by the study group ultimately will have to be approved by the full City Council.

The task force is co-chaired by Jeff Eckhoff, state director of the South Dakota Small Business Development Center, and Dan Statema, vice president of business development and community relations at First Dakota National Bank.

“The task force is reviewing existing studies, talking to stakeholders, taking input from the community and will be coming out with a long-range plan for the events center campus to best maximize the community’s return on investment,” Eckhoff said.

The management team at SMG will be important to the future success of the facilities, Eckhoff said. “We look forward to engaging the new management and involving them in the process. We’re excited to be working together,” he said.

Statema agreed that the task force is enthused to have the opportunity to work with the new administrators of the city’s facilities.

“There are so many intertwined and overlapping issues with the facilities. It’s important to work with them all together,” Statema said.

The task force is in the early stages of its study, Statema said. He expects members to be ready to offer recommendations by the end of summer.

Teri Schmidt, executive director of the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, also looks forward to working with the new management team at SMG. The city’s facilities have a bright future, she said.

“Our challenge, as a community, is the future of the Convention Center portion of the complex,” Schmidt said. “As the industry continues to expand and cities throughout the country are increasing that side of their facilities, we need to step back and consider what possibilities there are for the future. Do we want to continue to compete in the marketplace? If we do, should we expand the size of the Convention Center?”

The Convention Center opened in 1997. In addition to a regular variety of business and organization gatherings, the Convention Center annually hosts events such as outdoors, home and farm shows. In addition to local and regional gatherings, the Convention Center has hosted some large national events, perhaps most notably the 2018 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic. That convention and trade show attracted more than 28,000 people.

The other facilities that Krewson and Johnson oversee have a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

The Premier Center, which opened in late 2014, is approaching its fifth anniversary. The 12,000-seat facility has hosted a number of big-time events, including concerts by pop rock superstar Paul McCartney and a series of sold-out shows by country star Garth Brooks. Other highlights have included the annual Summit League college basketball tournament.

It recently reported a third consecutive year generating more than $2 million in net operating income, helped by three major first-time events for the state: the National Pheasant & Quail Classic, the nationally televised WWE Raw event and the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey regional tournament. There have been 54 sold-out events since the venue opened in October 2014.

The Arena, which was built in 1961, was the premier basketball and concert venue in eastern South Dakota for decades. But the aging facility faces an uncertain future and might need a new niche.

SMG is responsible for only the maintenance of the baseball stadium. Krewson said the quality of the facility might not match the level of professional baseball played there. Some downtown business boosters have wanted the stadium moved to the downtown area, but there have not been any steps taken in that direction.

Meantime, routine maintenance is being conducted in anticipation of this summer’s baseball season. The stadium, also known as the Birdcage, is the home field of the Sioux Falls Canaries, a minor league team.

The original Orpheum Theater, which is downtown, opened in 1913. But through the decades, the complex has been enlarged and renovated. The Theater Center is the home stage for community theater and hosts concerts and other events.

Overall, the city’s facilities “have performed well and continue to perform well,” Krewson said. “But with some additions and subtractions, there’s a lot of potential for additional conventions, NCAA (basketball tournament) bids and events that will draw revenue, not just for the facilities but for the community.”

Selling tickets, which the Premier Center has done well, encourages promoters to continue to bring big-name acts to Sioux Falls, he said.

Asked for an example of a dream performance he’d like to see in Sioux Falls, Krewson said the Rolling Stones or perhaps U2, two classic giants of the rock ’n’ roll world. He’d also like to see the Premier Center host a first and second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Johnson’s dream appearances would include return Premier Centers concerts by the Eagles and Eric Church. He’d also like to see Bon Jovi, which appeared at the Arena 20 years ago, make a return visit and play in the Premier Center. He’d also love to bring singer and songwriter Bruno Mars to Sioux Falls for the first time, he said.

Booking acts at the Premier Center will be Johnson’s primary duty. Booking performances is something on which he has focused for the past seven years, so he brings experience to his new job.

For the immediate future, Johnson said he will be staying the course.

“So far, it’s been a pretty easy argument to have (with promoters) with the history of how well the place (Premier Center) has done,” he said. “The goal really has been to continue to build on the success of this venue.”

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New leaders to guide Premier Center complex into next stage of life

You’ve probably heard about the study group looking at the future of the Sioux Falls Arena and its campus. But there’s a lot more going on out there – from new leadership to a big business merger involving the management company. Here’s a closer look at the landscape.

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