Congratulations to the 2017 Excellence in Operations & Engineering Award recipients!

Congratulations to these two professionals who have gone above and beyond in solving problems, creating solutions, instituting a new program, innovating with a new idea or leading in a highly creative way to benefit your venue in these areas.

The winners were selected by the VOS Board of Advisors, the Venue Solutions Group team and the Venues Today team. The winners, one operations and one engineering professional, will be highlighted in the April issue of Venues Today magazine.

The inaugural award winners will be honored at the Venue Operations Summit in Nashville, Tenn., April 30-May 2, 2017.  Learn more at

Matt Balk – VOS Excellence in Operations Award winner
Operations Manager
Tacoma Venues & Events at the City of Tacoma, WA

Matt joined Tacoma Venues & Events (formerly Public Assembly Facilities) just over 3 years ago. He arrived to an operations team decimated by recent layoffs, a city budget $60m in the red, and a clear mandate for change. Matt did not shy away from the challenge.

Matt worked creatively with the local utility and leveraged very limited funds to complete several key capital projects, including the installation of energy and cost-saving LED lighting in the Convention Center Exhibition Hall, wireless lighting controls and improvements in sound and rigging. He has nurtured a 33-year-old stadium and successfully secured funding for over $21 million in key improvements for the Tacoma Dome. In spite of its age and considerable deferred maintenance issues at the Dome, through the diligence of Matt and his operations team, customer and client satisfaction remains high. Simple, cost-effective aesthetic changes (all completed with in-house labor) allowed Matt and team to transform the back of house entrance and hallway area and ensure a more positive experience for production staff, artists, coaches and athletes. Matt facilitated the installation of a massive DAS/WIFI infrastructure upgrade in both the Dome and the Convention Center and coordinated the selection, installation, and operations of walk-through metal detectors at all Dome entrances. At the 13-year-old Convention Center, clients constantly marvel at the pristine condition of the venue and the exceptional service provided by maintenance workers and custodians.

If the definition of a true leader is someone who offers hope and vision, Matt fits the bill. His consistent approach, passion for fairness and excellence and zero tolerance for complacency has created nothing short of a 180-degree shift in the operations department. In his first year, the number of grievances filed plummeted by 95%, and since then he has been able to deliver terms favorable to both the labor unit and the city in several rounds of contract negotiations. Matt revitalized the safety committee and directed resources to address safety issues in a timely fashion. Matt infused new energy into his workforce. He patiently and thoughtfully placed staff in areas where they could be most successful. Through clear communication and respect for his experienced team, now joined by carefully selected new team members, Matt initiated an obvious positive culture shift in a relatively short period of time. Everyone is happier to come to work and contribute to the ongoing improvements and review of existing processes.

Jan Szabat – VOS Excellence in Engineering Award winner
Director of Engineering Services
Shaw Conference Centre (Edmonton, Alberta Canada)

For the past 30 years, Jan Szabat has played an instrumental role in overseeing the maintenance of one of Edmonton’s most iconic assets. Leading the engineering operations for a 33-year-old facility is not easy, but through Jan’s leadership the Shaw Conference Centre has maintained its position as a premier meetings and events destination in Canada.

Throughout the last year, Jan has overseen numerous major projects in the facility. These include flood mitigation and major bathroom renovations to the $12.5-million replacement and modernization of six escalators. Moreover, he has overseen the development of sustainable permaculture on the grounds, including the creation of an Indigenous Medicine Wheel Garden on the rooftop of our Riverview Room.

And that’s not all. With the entire atrium roof of the 150,000-square-foot facility covered in glass, Jan has also developed plans to phase in the replacement of the glass next year, a multi-million-dollar project that could have a major impact on operations. He also has had his plans approved to replace all the carpet on our stairs, and will oversee the modernization of the large canopy outside the main entrance to our facility.  This is all in addition to his day-to-day responsibilities of making sure the building is running efficiently so we can best serve our guests.

Jan’s commitment to sustainability has played a major role in allowing the Shaw Conference Centre to receive BOMA Best certification, and be the first conference venue in Canada to receive Green Key Level 5 certification. He has also helped lead efforts for the facility to become APEX/ASTM certified, which we are currently being evaluated for.

The above is only a small snapshot of what Jan has done over the past year. His dedication and leadership over the past 30 years at Edmonton’s convention centre is unapparelled within our industry. I strongly believe he deserves this industry recognition.


Contact an account executive to reserve a congratulatory ad!

Rich DiGiacomo, Northeast, Western U.S., & International

Jim McNeil, Texas, Southeastern & Midwest U.S.