Iowa State Center, Ames.

When VenuWorks takes over management of Iowa State Center, Ames, on Aug. 1 it will be a return home for Steve Peters, president of VenuWorks, and a new challenge for Tammy Koolbeck who becomes executive director there effective Aug. 10.

Tammy Koolbeck, executive director, Iowa State Center, Ames.

Peters actually brought that venue on board with private management for Ogden Entertainment in the beginning. Iowa State Center includes the 2,729-seat Stephens Auditorium, 450-seat Fisher Theater and the Scheman Building, with 25 meeting rooms, two large lobbies and the 456-seat Benton Auditorium.

SMG had managed the venue and was the only other bidder. Koolbeck will replace SMG’s Mark North.

VenuWorks has a five-year management agreement to handle all events, conferences, catering and concessions at Iowa State Center.

The majority of the staff at Iowa State Center remains on a 90-day transition trial, Koolbeck said. She came on board at the beginning of the bid process, because the RFP required bidders name their candidate for executive director.

It was a quick process, Koolbeck said of the 30-day turnaround from award of the contract June 24 to takeover. One of her first big changes will be taking food in-house. ISU Dining has been handling catering at the venues. Koolbeck is seeking a new concessions manager who will work for VenuWorks. The liquor license will be transferred Aug. 1 and food and drink will be transitioned by Sept. 1, Koolbeck said.

Besides booking the buildings, her other priority is looking into development of a 30,000-sq.-ft. ballroom at the Scheman Building. That was part of the VenuWorks proposal, she said. It is the missing piece of the puzzle to make that a much more active building. “We identified an area in the complex that will work,” she said.

Peters said team members Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects, Mortenson Construction and Kinseth Hospitality Companies contributed their expertise to the VenuWorks proposal.

The management change does not affect the adjacent Hilton Coliseum, which has been operated by ISU’s Athletics Department since 2008.

Another element of the bid involves more involvement with the student population at ISU. Koolbeck said she is looking forward to that aspect of management and working closely with students again. ‘I’m an events person,” she said. And though she won’t be hosting hockey, there will be “plenty of basketball.”

Koolbeck has a busy August ahead. She is program chairman for the International Association of Venue Managers VenueConnect in Baltimore, Aug. 1-4. She is also moving, along with her husband and son, to Ames which is two hours west of Cedar Rapids, and is still hosting the 70-person VenuWorks Ticketing and Marketing corporate meetings in late August, her last role on the corporate side.

VenuWorks, which has been staffing up corporately for a few months now, will be hiring a new SVP of marketing, she added. Thomas Peters is communications manager for VenuWorks.

“I’m not going to be on the road 200 days a year now,” Koolbeck said of the change. She has been seeking the right place and time to return to venue management for a while now, but had specific requirements. The position had to be with VenuWorks and it had to be in Iowa.

For Steve Peters, this is a sweet victory. VenuWorks corporate headquarters are in Ames. Twenty-five years ago, Peters brought Iowa State Center into the Ogden Entertainment private management fold. That company was later bought by Aramark, which was part owner of SMG at the time, and venue management was rolled into the SMG family in 2001. They have maintained the contract ever since, renewing it more than once.

In the short term, VenuWorks plans to expand internships for hospitality management students and performance opportunities for ISU theater and music ensembles. Long term, the goal is to renovate and expand the Iowa State Center.

“Those elements will take years of planning and development with the university, but we are confident our team has the experience, expertise and financial strength to realize these goals,” said Steve Peters, president and owner of VenuWorks, in a press release. “We are thrilled to work with the ISU community to help shape the future of the Iowa State Center.”

Koolbeck, a Venues Today Woman of Influence, had been chief marketing officer/senior vice president for VenuWorks, working in the corporate office for the last 10 years. Prior to that, she was assistant executive director of Marketing and Programming for the U.S. Cellular Center Arena/Paramount Theatre and General Manager of the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, all in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

She started in the public assembly management field in 1995 as the director of Marketing for the Five Seasons Center (now U.S. Cellular Center) and Paramount Theatre.

Koolbeck was selected as a Woman of Influence by Venues Today in 2010 in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the venues industry.  She was also honored by the Event and Arena Marketing Conference with the Gigi Award of Excellence, the highest honor awarded by the group. She is an active member of IAVM and recently earned her Certified Facilities Manager (CFE) designation and was awarded the 2014 IAVM Chairman’s Citation for her volunteer work.  Koolbeck is an active board member for the Event and Arena Marketing Conference where she served as the EAMC board president for five years. 

Interviewed for this story: Tammy Koolbeck, (515) 232-5151