As he begins the process of going through the three chairs of the International Assn. Of Assembly Managers (IAAM) presidency in addition to supervising the continuing renovation of 25-year-old Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Jimmy Earl knows the next few years could be stressful times.
Earl acknowledged that IAAM faces a most critical juncture in its 79-year history. There is a budget crunch as the organization continues to grapple with finding tenants for the 40,000-square-foot world headquarters acquired two years ago in Coppell, Texas. The original idea was to generate significant revenues from leasing 25,000 square feet, which hasn’t happened yet.
“I’m aware of that and we’re making the necessary efforts to get back on track and get our funds and our financial house in order,” he stated.”It’s like any institution; there is a cycle of (prosperity). We’re in the down part right now, but ultimately we’ll be OK. The new building is part of what those issues are. We are a little behind on rental of space, but are in the process of filling it. The facility is and will be an asset. It’s like any real property; it has value.”
“We have serious work to do, but will keep moving forward and use it the way it is supposed to be used.”
Earl, who attained Certified Facilities Executive status in 1995, and is a 1993 graduate of the Oglebay Public Assembly Facility Management School, has served on various committees and boards since he first joined IAAM in 1987. But he can always step aside momentarily from those responsibilities to perform the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi, defined in Webster’s Dictionary as a “discipline of meditative movements practiced as a system of exercise.”
Earl, 47, takes time for Tai Chi with at least two daily sessions.”That’s my latest passion. I’ve been involved in martial arts over 12 years, but have been doing this the past couple years. Tai Chi is thousands of years old. It started in China and is practiced by millions. It’s a soft form, with flowing movements that almost looks like dance. But it’s also a form of self-defense and exercise,” he said.”I find it very relaxing. It’s helped me quite a bit in relieving stress. I do it in the arena but my favorite place is the backyard with the trees and open areas.”
Earl also fishes for crappie and bass in the chain of seven Highland Lakes, feeding into the Colorado River, and plays golf, a year-round activity in Austin.
Earl, whose career in public assembly facility management coincides with Erwin Center’s quarter century of progression toward becoming one of the leading collegiate venues in the country, has been nominated as IAAM second vice president, a role that is expected to be approved at this year’s national convention in Atlanta. His full-time job is as associate director of the Erwin Center. His IAAM duties will include planning the 2003 conference in New Orleans and serving on the budget and finance committee as well as assisting incoming President Joe Floreano, Rochester (N.Y.) Riverside Convention Center, and Mike Kelly, NCC (New Zealand) Ltd., Christchurch, who will be elevated to first vice president at the Atlanta convention.
“I didn’t actively seek the position, but I see it as an opportunity to learn and serve. That’s the approach I’m taking,” he said. But when he first entered the venue business, Earl “had no idea there was an industry and IAAM.”
He had graduated with an engineering degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, where he earned an academic scholarship after declining a free ride in football.
“My training is engineering and I tried that for awhile. But I was bored and moved back home to Amarillo after school. Then a friend of mine told me about a part-time job at Amarillo Civic Center and they hired me. I worked different parts of the building – custodial, concessions, making ice and event setup,” he said.
Two weeks later, building manager David Dewald hired Earl as his executive assistant. “I liked the variety of the job and the challenge of it. No two days were the same. That was the appeal.”
After a year in Amarillo, Earl moved to Austin as events manager when Erwin opened its doors in 1977. Dean Justice was GM.
“I did that for 10 years, then moved to Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth for four years,” he said. “The convention business was a little different. We had an exhibit hall and a theater. That complex was like others of its kind. There was a period of time where they were trying to serve all facilities under one roof.”
In 1990, Earl moved back to Austin and Erwin Center. He loves the area.
“It’s a very progressive city and a facility that promotes as an in-house operation with ticketing, security and food and beverage. That again was the appeal, to actively promote entertainment and sports events.” But to compete in the 21st century, university officials realized the need to update the 17,000-capacity arena. Thus, the multi-million capital improvements project that includes building 29 luxury suites and a separate basketball practice facility for the Longhorns men’s and women’s programs
There have been no problems marketing the premium boxes, which will lease for $100,000 per year, according to Earl. In fact, there’s a waiting list among rabid UT fans.
“This is a 25-year-old building. Part of it is to stay current but to also create additional revenue streams” to fund big-time college athletics.
Terrorism Changed Things Based in the state capital of Texas, Earl is fully aware of the drastic change in venue management following last September’s terrorist attacks.
“Since 9/11, there have been so many other issues that we didn’t think about as much, but are forced to now to allow for our freedoms and to be safe,” he said.”We’ve changed a few things at Erwin Center, some minor, like checking in large parcels and bags. For certain events, we now use metal detectors. It depends on what we’re doing and who’s attending. Because we’re in the shadow of the state capital, there are different issues in terms of security that we have to address. It’s going to take some time to get things back to normal, but we’ll never get it back exactly the way it used to be. We have to be aware and use good judgement. That’s what we’re discussing in the IAAM crowd management seminars.”
Such sharing of information with “different methods and techniques” involving increased security is a perfect example of effective IAAM networking. “That personal interaction is IAAM’s strength,” he said. Earl laughed when asked how long he planned to work before preparing for retirement. “My wife (Vanessa) and I still have young children, a 9-year-old (Jabari) and a 16-year-old (Ashley), so I’ll gauge it by that. It’s a beautiful thing to have children. My job is what I do, it is not who I am. The reason I work is for my family.”
Jabari plays youth league football as an offensive guard for the Cougars. Ashley is a member of the Lady Panthers dance team at Pflugerville High School. His parenting philosophy is somewhat laid back.
“I really don’t put a lot of pressure on them, as long as they’re having fun. You’ve got to let the kids be kids.” That’s what his parents, John and Cora Earl did back in Amarillo. John owned and managed a dry cleaning business before he retired. Cora was a homemaker.
“My father encouraged me not to follow (his line of work) like most parents do. They have always been very supportive of me. I’ve been fortunate in that regard.”