New management sets stage for Alerus Center's next act
The Alerus Center’s new general manager has been on the job for two weeks, and she’s as busy as ever.
Anna Rosburg is fresh off a move from Casper, Wyo., arriving in Grand Forks to help lead the management change at the city-owned events center. Though it’s been run directly by the city for years, local leaders finalized a contract last month to hand over management to Spectra, a Philadelphia-based company they hope will boost both its profile and bottom line.
Moments into a meeting with Herald staff, Rosburg snuck a quick glance at her watch, joking moments later that there are only so many hours in the day. To hear Rosburg and other Spectra leaders tell it, there’s plenty to be done, from meeting with promoters to reviewing catering and concessions to overseeing $2.1 million in ongoing upgrades expected to roll out this summer.
"Initial impressions -- we've got an absolutely incredible facility here,” she said. A Twin Cities native, she jokes that she’s already used to the cold. “We’ve got a lot of opportunities in our company. It's closer to home for me, and I'm excited to be closer to our family."
Spectra’s leadership is a turning point for the Alerus Center, which has spent much of the last year untangling itself from a controversy that saw its two top staffers fired. Cheryl Swanson and Bob LeBarron, the director and assistant director, were terminated in November after a city investigation found they oversaw a toxic workplace environment.
Though top city and Alerus Center leaders weighed replacing the arena’s leadership by hiring directly, they ultimately settled on a management firm. Spectra has since absorbed most of the Alerus Center’s full-time employees, and are expected to bring higher-profile events to the center while increasing its profitability.
Tim Murphy, a regional vice president with Spectra, stands behind those promises. He said fan experience at upcoming UND football games will be at or above the quality it’s been in the past, and that the level of the events -- concerts, conventions and more -- should increase.
“It's what we do. We're good at it. We have good relationships in the industry," Murphy said. "(But) we've only been here a week and a half, so it's hard to say 'This event is coming.’ ”
From Casper to Grand Forks
Spectra manages a constellation of event centers and arenas around the country, ranging from the Bangor State Fairgrounds in Maine to the Durham Convention Center in North Carolina. Perhaps the flagship venue is the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, home to the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers.
Rosburg comes to Grand Forks from Wyoming where she was assistant general manager and marketing director for the Casper Events Center -- another Spectra-managed property. Fleur Tremel, the assistant deputy city manager, worked with Rosburg on projects ranging from a public website to a business after-hours event. The year Rosburg led a United Way fundraising drive for the city, Tremel said, stood out as a big success.
“She’s very pleasant to work with,” Tremel said. “I think she pretty much gets along with everybody. I don’t know any people who have something bad to say about Anna.”
Tremel said the Casper Events Center has been managed by Spectra since October, after departing employees left a leadership opening city officials felt would be well-filled by the company’s expertise. That’s appeared to pay off -- the Casper Events Center will host the Foo Fighters before the end of the year, Tremel said, and all signs point to good financial performance.
The Fargodome was a Spectra-managed property from 2003 until the end of 2015. David Suppes, the chairman of the Fargodome Authority, which oversees the public events center, said the building had “evolved” enough that it didn’t need private management any longer.
“We felt that we were ready to go out on our own, and that they’d done a fine job for us -- no complaints,” he said. He added that his sense is that the facility has stayed busy since parting ways with Spectra, and that the events passing through the area are often driven by the “touring market” more than what any one company can control.
The building has kept a food and beverage agreement with the company, which was also involved in ticketing services until those ticketing services were sold to a separate company.
Members of the Grand Forks’ Events Center Commission, which oversees the Alerus Center, had expressed concerns earlier this year that Spectra’s ties to the Fargodome might create a conflict of interest as acts are routed through the area. But Murphy, the Spectra vice president, said last week that the company’s work in Fargo won’t change the lineup coming to the Alerus Center.
"It's not managed by us, so It's all about the Alerus Center for us,” Murphy, the Spectra vice president, said. “Our relationship with the Fargodome in the past … has nothing to do with how we approach business here at the Alerus."
Until the next show
The Alerus Center has seen private management before, with VenuWorks managing the facility from 1997 until 2011, when it was fired following poor financial performance. Then came years of direct city management, and now comes the expectation that Spectra will take the facility to bigger and better things.
Julie Rygg, chairwoman of the Alerus Center Commission, which oversees the facility, said she’s already seen Spectra “putting their money where their mouth is,” working to boost the events at the facility even before last month’s contract was finished. The city, the Alerus Center leaders and the building’s employees all want it to be a big success.
“Spectra seems the best partner for that,” she said.