TBCA Almost 40 Years Old!
by Scott A. Sumner
I sat down with recently appointed General Manager of the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, Trevor Hurtig to talk about some history, recent changes to it’s organizational structure and future direction.
The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium has been prominent in the region for quite awhile now Trevor?
“ The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium opened October 16,1985 so getting close to 40 years old. The building was very technologically advanced for it’s time and to this day many of the artists that come through still consider it to be very warm and one of the finest halls in Canada. The acoustics are second to none. There are somethings that >need updates but the acoustics and audience chamber are holding their own. Today the building is valued at $40 million dollars but would probably cost even more now to build from scratch.”
The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium has played an important role in Thunder Bay and region?
“It has done what everyone hoped it would I believe. It was supposed to be an entertainment hub, not just for Thunder Bay, but the entire region. We still spend a lot of time reaching out into the region letting people know this is the Community Auditorium and the community >stretches beyond Thunder Bay. I do a little radio show on CFNO in Marathon and have people coming in and want to talk to Trevor. We get people coming in from Marathon, Geraldton and Manitouwadge who will drive in, see a show, spend the night and do some shopping.We also have people from the west coming in from as far as Dryden or Red Lake.They may have a medical appointment as well.”
On average how many show have you done over the years at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium before Covid?
“ We were averaging about 100 shows a year and seeing about 140,000 to 150,000 people through the doors during the season. We reopened about a year ago after Covid and had 81 shows or events in that period with just over 60,000 people through the doors, so we are coming back up. It has been a bit of a climb but we are getting there.”
The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium has a good economic impact on the city and region?
“Yes, Tourism Thunder Bay has done some reports over the years especially when we did Bluesfest and it was in the millions.”
There are a broad range of types of events at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium from rock symphony etc.
“The building was built to be able to do a variety of shows. The >orchestra pit was done to be able to do Broadway type shows.We also retro fitted that so we could turn it into a mosh pit for certain rock concerts or up beat country shows or some of the punk shows that have >come through here. It also allows the symphony to sit on the edge of the stage if you will. The ceiling will drop down on the stage and create an acoustic situation where the sound will project better into the audience. Also there are wooden panels that come out at the back of the stage to help project the sound forward to the audience chamber. You can tune the hall with draperies down the side raised or lowered to make the sound more lively or dead if you will. It allows us to do
many different things in here.We have a loose slogan that “we try to do something for everybody” and based on our numbers we get a good percentage of the population through here at some point in time. Ballet, symphony, comedy- we try to do a bit of everything.We are still climbing out of the hole that Covid left us but getting there one step >at a time.”
How many staff work at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium?
“We have 7 full time staff and about 150 part time staff and that would include the technical staff on the stage, ushers, bartenders and box office. We are currently working to fill some positions as well.”Continued Page 10Continued from page 4
How do you choose the shows that come to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium?
“ There are a few different ways we get the acts here.The most important way is we are in constant contact with agents, promoters- anyone in the business involved in doing live entertainment. We can go out and buy the show, pay the artist fee and present it ourselves entirely at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium risk. We can do a co presentation and in that case we might work with a promoter and we will do a split of revenue of 50 or 60%where we share the risk. The third way is rentals where we get the Live Nations or AEG concerts and also smaller promoters. It looks like any other show here with our staff but they are renting the building and taking the risk to promote the show. Another version of that is the local groups such as a dance studios, the university, college and high schools that do graduations here and rent the building. Some don’t even involve tickets sales. The Symphony is a regular renter if you will. The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium was really built with them in mind and we consider them to be our partner in things that happen around here. We try to give extra consideration to the Symphony, as they are a main reason why we are here. They help us as well moving something for us or we do that for them.”
So you can go after any shows you want at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium Trevor?
“ There are a few factors that limit what you can do when 1497 seats is our capacity. If we put the pit in it can be bumped up to 1625 peoplebecause of the standing room. So you are not going to get Bruce Springsteen here unless something was different. The artist fees can be very high and the production values can be expensive.The Thunder Bay Community Auditorium is a business here so we have to try to earn revenue. That is part of the challenge. We are a registered non profit so our goal isn't necessarily to make tons of money here. Our goal is to break even and maybe do a little bit better than that. It is an expensive building to operate. Some of the best shows I’ve seen here didn’t make us any money. For instance ZZ Top came here the first time, was sold out and we made a small profit.The last time here it was a rental when a promoter took their whole Canadian tour. That show didn’t sell as well. The ideal balance is to have some co pay events, some that are yours and the rentals.”
A recent big change at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium is you are now independent from the City of Thunder Bay as an organization?
“There was lot of confusion in the past as to what we really were. My paycheck came from the city but their position was they were providing a service to us providing payroll, HR and also acted like our bank. It >was kind of a tricky situation for the city in particular because they had no control over what we were doing as we were our own organization on one hand but they were the bank and also employing us. It didn’t fit with what they were doing anymore. We don’t have to pay municipal taxes and lease the building. They want us to more or less run it on their behalf. They still provide us funding through the Youth and Cultural Funding program as they also do with Magnus or the Symphony. >We get just below $800,000 annually which helps us operate. In Covid we realized it is still an expensive building to operate even if it is just sitting here without activity. Heat and electricity and ongoing >maintenance say with the screw jacks in the stage add up.”
“The city wrote off our deficit due to Covid and ongoing deficits as they had reduced our funding in the past. They are writing off close to $2 million and giving us some funds to startup- extending a loan for $ 500,000. We also have the option to request up to another $ 500,000 if we want to do something big- something like Bluesfest that would allow us to go out and secure the acts. In the 2019 Bluesfest for example, the artist fees were some where around $1 million. Our priority is the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium and we want to get back to where we were before taking on the risk of say the Bluesfest. You have to rebuild it. We have talked to some private people we could partner with on large events.”
“We do have a board of directors with two city councilors including >Mayor Ken Boshcoff. We have a pretty good team now and are trying to hire a development coordinator here. The other staff have stepped up and did other things as well.The set up now is more clear. There isn’t this question are we city employees or not. Is it a city organization or not. For example we have had to hire our own accounting provider now instead of using the city.”
The move to Ticketmaster at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium has >been talked about quite a bit recently?
“ Ticketmaster have had some bad press with the Taylor Swift thing. At the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium we need a box office ticket provider system if you will.We need software to sell tickets.The artists need all the sophisticated reporting that comes with some of these systems. Our previous provider tried to get a huge increase in their costs which forced us to look around and many of the other halls like us talked about TicketMaster, who are the leaders. Their fees are actually quite a bit lower than if we stayed with this old company and taken the increases. We want to keep those costs as affordable as possible. Ticketmaster were the best value and their technical support has been great.The ease of use is good.We also now have in person ticket sales here Wednesdays from12:30 to 5:30 and three hours before each show.Our use of Ticketmaster has made it easier for LiveNation, the largest promoter in the world to use us as an example. AEG is the second largest promoter and they are all set up for Ticketmaster. It will help us generate more shows.”
Tell me about your background. What has been your education in the field Trevor?
“I came out of high school and thought about law or teaching and ended up getting an HBA in PoliSci and BA in History at Lakehead University and was leaning towards teaching. One of my Poli Sci professors saw me performing at the Outpost for a special event with a pick up band. He said you should be taking arts administration and I said what is that. I’m pretty sure that is the type of thing that would get you working at a place like the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium he said. That caught my attention so I went to Confederation College in their Arts Administration program and won the Dean’s Medal for highest marks in my class. I ended up working in marketing at North Superior Publishing Inc., then the city and the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. There have been four general managers at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium since it’s inception.”
What’s on the horizon at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium?
“ We want to just keep getting the shows coming in and get back to our normal numbers. Many of the artists are trying to make up for Covid times with higher artist fees which makes it harder to book shows, even with artists we have had in the building before. Normally we have charged $35 to $150 and $20 in fees so it means that ticket prices could be higher. It is a competitive environment.”