March 24, 2014
JOHNSTOWN — The Cambria County War Memorial Arena is coming off the busiest 23 days in its history, according to General Manager Tom Grenell.
A host of recent shows sold out – or came close to sellouts – and marked the perceived success of a new “sabermetric” approach to entertainment scheduling.
Grenell said he gave War Memorial operators some homework: Watch the 2011 Brad Pitt film “Moneyball.” The plot follows a baseball general manager’s application of statistics and objective analysis to forecast “hot” players and create a successful team on a tight budget.
“I took that concept and ran it here because we have to be different,” Grenell said. “We built this concept on the belief that the more activity we can put in here on top of each other, the bigger the buzz we could create in the market.
“It really seemed to work, and we’re going to continue to do this,” he said of the homespun, grassroots-style campaign. “What it’s done is given a launching pad for rebranding – a rebirthing of the War Memorial, if you will.”
More than 36,000 people attended events at the War Memorial in those 23 days, Grenell said.
The Beach Boys concert sold out. A Christian rock tour featuring Third Day and Skillet sold out. Disney on Ice reached around 85 percent capacity, its highest volume since the show debuted here 1996, Grenell said. Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd had its highest arena attendance in three years.
In all, $32,707 went back into the city through the 5 percent amusement tax, according to an official report from assistant general manager Karen Gregorchik.
Grenell said he couldn’t have made it happen without help from Hal Dues, a supervisor for the county’s Adult Probation Department, and the 20 or so community service workers he directs. He said Dues has become proficient at stage building and striking. The extra agility resulted in entertainment promoters getting a bigger cut and ticket prices staying level.
“We couldn’t have done this without them. We couldn’t have afforded to pay 20 people,” Grenell said.
The arena authority stressed that every month can be a smash.
“I think everyone understands that pace isn’t going to be there every month,” authority Chairman Dean Gindlesperger told the board during its regular Monday meeting.
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/ JustinDennis.
February 22, 2014
JOHNSTOWN — Whether performer or patron, Tom Grenell, General Manager of the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, wants to see all needs met.
Those in the box office handle disabled customers with care, and Grenell has set up a home for tour-weary performers in the warehouse area behind the concourse.
Box office manager Diane Hutzell and her staff do not take phone orders for tickets except in one special circumstance – when disabled patrons need to make arrangements to attend an event at the arena.
“We prefer they call ahead so we know wheelchairs and extra people to handle them are coming,” Hutzell said. “We get them a place to sit beside or behind the one in the wheelchair.”
Grenell said spots for wheelchairs can be reserved and those with a handicapped placard have a drop off point.
“We want disabled patrons to come,” he said. “We want to work with those with disabilities and do what is sensible. We try to prioritize the space for whoever needs it the most.”
With a 63-year-old building not constructed with as much foresight as more modern arenas, Grenell is more than willing to go the extra mile for the disabled.
“We want them to feel they can come easily,” he said. “If they need a special service, we don’t think twice about it. We want them to feel it’s easy to come and be taken care of.”
Karen Gregorchik, assistant general manager, runs the guest services and makes sure the guest experience is first class.
Those in wheelchairs are gathered into a special room and escorted to their seats through a side door so they don’t have to wait in the ticket line and go through the turnstiles.
Another time customers get a special touch is when they physically stop at the box office to get a specific seat.
Grenell said Hutzell started out in the time of hard tickets and has now mastered Ticketmaster.
“She’s seen it all and has invaluable experience,” Grenell said. “Building a show is complex, and if not for Diane, I’d be lost. She and her team are the backbone of building a show.”
Visiting performers have a home away from home in the warehouse space behind the concourse that Grenell has expanded.
There are an office space, hotel suite, “Slapshot” photos, flat screen TV, a shower and a catering space, with food served on real china.
“They spend every day on the road and live out of a suitcase,” Grenell said. “We want to go the extra mile for the nicest amenities, make it homey, put in a personal touch with artwork and try to make a living space.”
The War Memorial doesn’t have a kitchen, but Grenell and his staff have tweaked equipment from the concession stands, hoping to buy a stove someday.
“For Brit Floyd, we wrap everything in bacon, even the asparagus,” Grenell said. “We want to take care of the artists and try to exceed their expectations. We want them to feel like family.”
Gregorchik also executes the financial obligation of the arena’s contracts with performers, making sure there’s a profit in the show while meeting all the needs of the contract.
Hutzell and Gregorchik’s work often overlaps because they are essentially selling someone else’s tickets.
“The biggest misconception people have is that the War Memorial gets the ticket money,” Grenell said.
When Gregorchik is checking out an act she hopes to bring to the War Memorial, she must look at the Johnstown market and decide what the average consumer is willing to pay for a ticket.
“People will pay extra for a meet and greet, but $60 for a ticket is not going to happen in Johnstown,” Gregorchik said. “The norm is $27 to $40. We have to figure out what we expend for the set up of the show, too.”
For those who enjoy events at the War Memorial, March Madness won’t be only on the basketball court this year.
A record breaking six events in 28 days will come to town for the first time during March.
The idea, which Grenell said is not an accident, came about when he, Hutzell and Gregorchik sat down to discuss what acts would work and when they would work best.
“We identified our strongest time as the spring, and we felt that if done right, the market can support this many shows,” Grenell said.
One circumstance on Grenell’s side is the diverse nature of the events, which invite vastly different audiences.
Up first will be the PIAA regional wrestling championships Feb. 28 and March 1.
Then Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd will rehearse four days before putting on an extravagant show March 6.
Disney on Ice will bring “100 Years of Disney” to the area March 12-16.
“Disney hasn’t been here in three years,” Grenell said. “I expect to see multi-generational families and adults who just love Disney attend.”
It will be back-to-back show dates when the Beach Boys and Three Dog Night play the arena March 19, followed by an all-star Christian concert featuring Third Day, Skillet, Mandisa, Brandon Heath, Peter Furler and We As Human March 20.
Country star Billy Currington will end the madness March 28.
“Every show should perform well,” Grenell said. “My goal is to survive.”
Grenell said there is more to come with other country shows and a martial arts show.
“We are actively pursuing Crosby, Stills and Nash,” Grenell said. “We heard they’re touring this summer, but it will depend on whether they’re doing indoor or outdoor shows.”
SMG, which manages the War Memorial, helps get artists to play Johnstown, and Grenell makes them want to come back with his down-home star treatment.
“Chris Tomlin said our treatment exceeded his expectations,” Grenell said. “Repeat business speaks volumes.”
Grenell has been able to bring about some of the building changes he talked about last year and is planning on more.
The War Memorial received a grant to switch out existing lighting fixtures, which date to 1950, with LED lights.
Gregorchik said the new lighting has been installed in the concourse and locker rooms.
“We’re working on the bathrooms and hope to have them done before March,” she said. “The old lights took 15 to 20 minutes to warm up. I was always skeptical to touch a light switch.”
Grenell said the new lights are brighter and cost less.
“Before it cost $58 a day for the halls, now it cost $11 a day,” he said. “Next is the bathrooms. It’s technically not affordable to do the arena in LED.”
Grenell is hoping to secure a grant to get an energy study done.
“We need to see where we can go and what we can save,” he said. “That’s quite a hurdle with a building this size. We have to run the heat and air conditioning at the same time. Every spare dollar we get, we want to reinvest in the facility.”
“I’m pro-Johnstown, and I’m going to stay until it’s fixed. I want to play any part needed.”
Gregorchik said the concession stands got a makeover by incorporating the option for using a credit card at every stand.
“This makes things faster,” Grenell said. “It’s a three-year investment of $57,000, but we had to catch up with the times. No one carries that much cash anymore. Since we’ve made concessions user-friendly, we’ve seen an increase in sales.”
A new phone system is set to be installed, which will make conference calls easier.
The War Memorial has hired a local company, Corporate Security, to handle fluctuating demand for ushers and security guards.
“We might need 40 ushers for the Beach Boys and 15 for a Tomahawks game,” Grenell said. “They hired our existing people, and now they have more work available to them.”
Gregorchik added the need for ushers is based on ticket sales.
“They’re flexible and want to work with us,” she said. “They go above and beyond. Corporate Security does high school hockey games, Richland Community Days and Thunder in the Valley.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who come once a year for a convention, have helped the arena by painting some walls upstairs and refinishing the floor in the portion of the warehouse open to performers.
When it comes to hockey, the Johnstown Tomahawks are drawing nice numbers, but it’s the Little Pens hockey program that is going through the roof.
“We have 30 kids sign up and sell out in 20 minutes,” Grenell said. “They get $125 worth of gear to play for 10 weeks at the facility where they sign up. They can sign up at Planet Ice, too.”
“Hockey is a growth sport, and we’re in the best spot with the Tomahawks playing. We’ve identified it, have a plan and are committed to see more customers. If we grow the sport, it’s healthy for all the rinks in the region.”
January 28, 2014
JOHNSTOWN — The Cambria County War Memorial Arena is about to enter what its general manager, Thomas Grenell, referred to simply as the facility’s “season.”
It’s the period between Super Bowl Sunday and summer when the arena has the best chance to perform well financially.
“We make our most successful runs when we finish with Super Bowl season and go into May,” Grenell told the War Memorial’s authority during its regular meeting on Monday.
“There’s less entertainment competition. People have paid off Christmas. There are income tax checks that are hopefully in people’s pockets. Cabin fever exists. We can get people back out to the entertainment district, and we’ve seen proven success.”
The arena is booked for more than three dozen dates – not including youth hockey – between now and June.
Grenell did not simply try to fill the calendar with any events available, though. Rather, he tried to make a schedule to target different audiences. There are athletic competitions, such as Johnstown Tomahawks hockey games, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Southwest Regional Class AA Wrestling Tournament and a mixed martial arts card. Musically, Brit Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band, is scheduled to perform in early March. Disney on Ice and the Special Olympics are on the docket, too.
“We actively started on this in about October, buying shows with our partners, that would be targeted to a demographic,” said Grenell.
“Fill that demographic, now move on to another demographic, another show. We felt that was the way to go.”
Back-to-back shows are scheduled on March 19 and 20.
The Beach Boys and Three Dog Night have been booked for the 19th. Then, one day later, Third Day and Skillet are set to perform a Christian rock concert.
“This March will be our biggest March that I can ever remember to the point of doing a show back to back,” said Grenell.
“That’s never been done in my lifetime, two different shows, two different days. We’re very, very happy about it.”
December 5, 2013
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Bureau of Recreation and Conservation
Community Conservation Partnerships Program Grant Announcement
The Department is announcing over $38M for 201 grants to communities, municipal authorities, and non-profit organizations for recreation, park, and conservation planning; land conservation for parks, open space, and natural areas; and, park and trail rehabilitation and development. The Community Conservation Partnerships Program implements the priorities identified by Pennsylvanians as part of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan and this year’s funding includes grants in about 91% of the state’s counties.
Cambria County, $300,000, rehabilitation of the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown City, work to include the renovation of the ice rink; installation of floor, heat tubing and ice floor control systems; ADA access, project sign and other related site improvements. John K. Dubnansky, 814-534-2697. ESF
New management team announced for War Memorial Arena
Johnstown, PA - October 16, 2013
JOHNSTOWN - Cambria County War Memorial Arena has been intertwined with Thomas Grenell's life for decades.
The Johnstown native grew up playing pee-wee hockey and attending rock concerts there.
He still remembers the days when the concourse walls were covered in bright orange paint provided by Bethlehem Steel.
His father, Dennis Grenell, served on the committee that previously oversaw the facility, which enabled him to learn firsthand about the day-to-day business operations.
The younger Grenell has worked at the arena for 17 years now.
And earlier this month, he achieved a longtime goal by being officially named the facility's new general manager.
"I just fell in love with the War Memorial," said Grenell.
At the same time, Karen Gregorchik was tabbed as the assistant general manager by the arena's promoter, SMG.
They already had been running the arena, along with its sister facility, the North Central Recreation Center, during the past few months.
Grenell had been serving as acting general manager since Mike Silva resigned from the GM position in September 2012. Gregorchik was the second in charge as the accounting manager.
"The charge is the same," Grenell said. "The goals are the same. It was nice to make it official, but really the focus and the goals are the same." He continued: "The challenge is awesome. Karen and I, I think, would both agree that it's certainly not easy, but it's a lot of fun, because you're always having to solve business problems with limited resources, so it forces you to be creative and repurpose a lot of things."
Other changes have come, too.
A point-of-sale system has been installed by Pomodo Tech LLC, enabling customers to now purchase items with credit cards.
"We've seen sales actually go up because now we're accepting plastic," said Gregorchik.
Event staffing has been taken over by Corporate Security Services.
"Across the board, we have not had one complaint," said Gregorchik. "We've had more actual appreciative customers, the patrons saying they are doing outstandingly well. I really believe that we did the right thing there."
Arena officials also hope to soon have new energy-efficient LEDs installed in the concourse by The Hite Co.
Cambria County War Memorial Arena Receives Prestigious Award
Johnstown, PA - April 21, 2011 - The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which is part of the federal Department of Defense, has awarded the Cambria County War Memorial Arena the prestigious Seven Seals Award. The award is "for meritorious leadership and initiative in support of the men and women who serve America in the National Guard and Reserve". The Seven Seals Award represents the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, the Naval Reserve, the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve and the Coast Guard Reserve.
The award itself will be presented to Tom Young, Chairman of the Arena's Board Authority and Michael Silva, General Manager of the Cambria County War Memorial Arena prior to Friday's Johnstown Generals game.
Marty Kuhar, chairman of the ESGR's Mountain Area, nominated the arena for the award. ESGR's Mountain Area includes Cambria, Somerset, Indiana, Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon and Fulton counties and part of Westmoreland County. Kuhar states, "The Cambria County War Memorial Arena has been supporting the men and women of our military for over 60 years. It is most fitting they receive this Department of Defense award."
The nomination was approved by ESGR State Chairman Major General Wesley Craig. Major General Craig is also in charge of the Army and Air National Guard and Pennsylvania's Department Of Veterans' Affairs. The award is signed by Mr. Dennis McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs).