New Civic Center Manager Builds On Foundation

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Robyn Schon

by Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.

By the time she came to Roanoke in February 1998 to assume the position of marketing director of the Roanoke Civic Center, Robyn Schon was well established in the field of marketing public assembly facilities.  Starting out as a part-time receptionist at the Greensboro Coliseum, she cut her teeth in the marketing department there, then moved on to Detroit, Michigan, where she worked at the Joe Louis and Cobol Arenas, the Fox Theatre, and with the Detroit Red Wings NHL hockey team—all of which were owned by the same people.

Then it was off to Atlanta, where she helped the IHL hockey team during its inaugural season with pre-season ticket sales and marketing and promotions. When the team was sold and moved to Ottawa, Canada, she returned to her native North Carolina before coming to Virginia.

Following six years as marketing director for the Roanoke Civic Center complex, Schon became the assistant director.  After the facility was privatized and Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum assumed operations in January 2009, she became assistant general manager. Now, only weeks after her boss Chris Connelly’s departure to take over the Iowa Events Center in De Moines, she moved into his seat as general manager of the Roanoke Civic Center, which includes the coliseum, the Performing Arts Theatre and the Special Events Center.

One of Schon’s goals in her new position is to eliminate the facility’s public subsidy – which was the principal reason the Civic Center was privatized during Darlene Burcham’s tenure as Roanoke City Manager.  During that initial period the Civic Center’s food service department was privatized.  Based on the positive results of that action, Schon observes, “it only made sense to kind of go in that direction for privatizing the actual facility management and operations.”

The result:  “We have been able to put a positive dent in the subsidy for the City of Roanoke, thereby saving taxpayers more money than had been spent on the facility in the past to keep it operating.”

During its first year under Global Spectrum’s management, the Civic Center succeeded in eliminating approximately a half-million dollars from the subsidy.  “Ideally, we’d like to get that to zero, where we’re self-sustaining and not dependent upon any funds from the city,” says Schon. “Realistically,” she adds, “that may not happen for a couple of years.  But we continue to strive for that goal, and we’re going to keep moving in that direction.”

Another item on Schon’s agenda is to continue to bring first-rate entertainment to the Roanoke Valley.  Economic hard times notwithstanding, the Civic Center’s operations and financial status, as well as attendance at Civic Center events, have continued to trend in a positive direction.

“We’ve actually been able to do some phenomenal numbers. We’ve done several sold-out shows in the last year,” noted Schon, “[and] we’ve added shows when an initial booking sold out.  We’ve sold out some shows rather quickly to our surprise.  We’ve seen nothing but good things.”

Whatever the reason for this performance (timing, people’s desire for relief from real world stresses, etc.), Schon feels that an added factor has been the Civic Center’s ability to attract a really diverse array of entertainment to the area—including sports, as witnessed by the Philadelphia 76ers-New Jersey Nets preseason game here last fall.

“We continue to bring in top-notch entertainment.  People come out and support it, so that’s encouraging to us.”

Among the upcoming attractions at the Civic Center are the sold-out James Taylor concert on May 20 in the Performing Arts Theatre, the Cirque du Soleil “Alegria” production May 4-8 (an eighth performance has recently been added), Max & Ruby – which Schon describes as “a classic little bunny story that pre-schoolers like,” and another WWE Wrestling Smackdown in June—which will be televised.  “We’re excited to have that because we haven’t had a [nationally] televised event in quite a while.”

Along with providing headlining entertainment for the public, Schon wants to continue serving the Civic Center’s clients—be they national, regional, or local—“and service them in the best way possible.”