Winnipeg, Manitoba is about eight hours north of Sioux Falls. It is home to the MTS Centre. It's a 15,000 seat arena which has been open for seven years. It was designed by the same team of architects who are in the process of planning Sioux Falls' events center. While the facilities will not be identical....we do know the plans for the Sioux Falls events center are based on the MTS Centre. Two days ago, I went to Winnipeg to tour the MTS Centre.
Winnipeg, Manitoba is the 7th largest city in Canada with a population of just over 630,000 people. It is very metropolitan area. Mass transit is a big deal here. Sitting right in the middle of the city is the MTS Centre, a 15,000 seat sports and entertainment venue and this is one of the guys whose job it is to keep the place successful. "You can't really say if we build it, they will come. You can say we're gonna build it, now lets go after it, lets go after it 365 days a year for the rest of our lives." Kevin Donnelly is the senior vice president and general manager of the MTS Centre. He is also one of Canada's most well known concert promoters. It's his job to fill all of the seats in this place whenever an event is held. And so far, they have been able to do it...very well.
The MTS centre opened its doors seven years ago and what it replaced was an aging 50+ year old facility. What they've done here at the MTS Centre is nothing short of amazing. Over the last seven years they've increased the number of performances they have hosted here by 400%. One of key elements of the MTS Centre's business plan is being able to turn a profit by hosting smaller sized shows. "Succeed at 3,000 people....succeed at 5,000 people...succeed at 9-10-12,000 people." Under this philosophy, of making sure smaller shows turn a profit, Donnelley says the future never depends on selling out 15,000 seats for every show. The MTS Centre was built with a sophisticated draping system, which allows the centre to adjust the size of the performance space while making sure it never looks or feels empty. And we know for a fact the Sioux Falls facility will also have this draping system, according to architect Don Dethlefs, who will head up the Sioux Falls project and who oversaw the construction of the MTS Centre. "We're going to be doing something very similar for Sioux Falls. We can do a lot of different scale of events with curtaining systems and again for concert capacity it will be very close to the Winnipeg capacity."
What else will be similar? Wide, sweeping concourses with concession areas. Also, the design of the seats and the seating area. Dethlefs says the Sioux Falls facility may have one less row of seating compared to Winnipeg. The MTS Centre is privately owned and was privately financed, meaning no local of federal government is making any of the decisions. In Winnipeg, Kevin Donnelly represents that ownership group and tells me, Sioux Falls city leaders need to take their time and make sure the events center is done right. "Ownership has to make a decision...an architect can design but the owner makes the final decision and this is a significant challenge because very few owners are going to build two of these things....so the learning curve for the operator or owner is very, very steep."
The MTS Centre is located in downtown Winnipeg, near several major businesses and along a bus route. With this in mind, the Centre is open every day and on it's first floor there are several coffee and food shops for people on the go. The Sioux Falls events center will likely not contain this feature, as it will not be located in a downtown area. Architect Don Dethlefs tells me, much of the design work for the Sioux Falls events center has been completed and the schematics his company put together for city leaders and voters contain images of what the final product will most likely look like. "I think what we are proposing will end up looking like what we've shown to the voters....very, very closely."
The MTS Centre is a success; so much so that the group that owns and operates the building recently acquired the rights to a new Winnipeg Jets NHL hockey team. The original Jets left in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes. The new Jets play their home games....at the MTS Centre. Kevin Donnelly says it is a huge return on their initial investment and allows for more quality entertainment options in Winnipeg. But Donnelly predicts, Sioux Falls may have a tough road ahead in terms of getting the events center up and running and consistently busy. "What have you done for me lately? if you have fallen off the market for a year or five years or never been on the market radar, its a very tough process. You have to take baby steps. You have to start small. You can't go after the Rolling Stones and put up a bunch of money and hope that's gonna solve your next 10 years."
And Kevin Donnelly also tells us, what keeps him up at night is the idea that he has booked an act at the MTS Centre and it's the wrong act. Not only will that show not sell tickets but he says you also run the risk of insulting your customers and leaving a bad taste in their mouths. He says it's all about understanding your customers and their wants.
Be sure to stay with KSFY News for continuing coverage as Sioux Falls begins the task of building the events center.
2011 KSFY News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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