SMG to Manage Tucson Convention Center

Management firm announces new contract on its first Arizona facility

  • by Rebecca Nakashima
  • Published: October 14, 2014

The Tucson Convention Center is undergoing over $8 million in renovations. 

SMG has broken into the deserts of Arizona and has announced its newly-signed management contract for the Tucson Convention Center. By winning the RFP process started by the city in March, SMG will now manage the Tucson Convention Center, Tucson Arena, Tucson Musical Hall and Tucson Leo Rich Theater. 

SMG Executive Vice President Gregg Caren believes that SMG’s experience with managing a variety of different facilities like those that make up the Tucson Convention Center played into the committee’s decision to go with SMG.

“I think they also liked the fact that as a company we did not have another building in Arizona,” said Caren, “so this would be a unique venue that we could pay attention to and create a new stop for in entertainment events and conventions and conferences.”

Thanks to tax incentives, the city recently had the opportunity to put $8.1 million into improvements at the facility. Focusing mostly on bettering the fan experience, many of the renovations involved front-of-house changes including all new seats, concession stands and bathrooms in the arena as well as a new paint job, an arena-wide cleaning and a new kitchen and scoreboard that will be coming soon.

“When you walk in there, you recognize the building, but it looks like a whole different building,” said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

Lewis Dawley will be acting as the transition GM until spring.

“Because of the multipurpose nature of the venue, we want to get it transitioned and then find the right player for each component,” said Caren. “We really have not determined exactly whether we’re going to lead it with somebody who’s got more convention center experience and then backfill them with an entertainment person or vice versa. But we’ve got a number of candidates that we’re talking to, and we’re just not racing that process since we have the luxury of having Lew in town to help run the transition and take care of the logistics of turning it into an SMG facility. It gives us a little time to really put the right management team together.”

Before this, the city of Tucson which owns the convention center, was also responsible for managing the facility, though Rothschild said the city had not invested in it for many years. He sees this new step as a beneficial partnership where SMG’s national connections will  bring big things to Tucson and says he has already witnessed a change occurring. 

“I was speaking with Lewis Dawley yesterday and just the people he’s been on the phone with already are people that our municipal employees just didn’t have that kind of experience to get,” said Rothschild. “They’ve just been here a month but in talking with them and talking with the staff that was retained they’re just like, wow this is different, and they’re so much happier.”

Caren believes the renovations were a good call on the city’s part. As they take care of the “nuts and bolts” of the facility, SMG is able to jump in on their end. 

“Our plan is basically to start giving them the same benefit that we provide to the other facilities that we operate,” said Caren, “and that is sort of putting them on the map a little more for any type of event, whether it’s a theater event or arena event or a convention trade or consumer show, and start to give them the benefit of our advertising, our national sales and work in conjunction with Tucson to start getting them a little more exposure.”

In the meantime, experts from other SMG facilities have been brought in to fill the holes in the convention center’s staff and provide their expertise in areas such as event services, accounting and sales.

“Any new account for us is exciting,” said Caren. “Getting to know and work with a new community is always a unique experience. Tucson is a pretty cool and special place. Between the historic aspects of it and the university town aspects of it, we do see a lot of upside in all aspects of the business.”

A grand opening event featuring the Beach Boys is planned for Jan. 3, 2015.

Interviewed for this article: Gregg Caren, (610) 729-7922; Jonathan Rothschild, (520) 791-4201

  • by Rebecca Nakashima
  • Published: October 14, 2014