Face off: The show is ready to go on in the Triangle

Face off: The show is ready to go on in the Triangle

2021-07-02T14:51:37-04:00July 2nd, 2021|Entertainment, Arts & Media, Raleigh-Durham|

Writer: Felipe Rivas

2 min read July  2021 — The Raleigh-Durham entertainment and events sector is once again ready to host and entertain guests with world-class events. Leaders in this key economic segment spent much of the pandemic focused on creating a safe space for guests upon their return while also connecting with the local community. The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is gearing up for a strong return to regular programming in August. In Raleigh, the Convention and Performing Arts Complex already has a robust list of events for the summer with a diverse lineup prepared for the fall and winter seasons. Optimism abounds for a strong sectoral recovery, DPAC General Manager Bob Klaus and Raleigh Convention and Performing Arts Complex General Manager Kerry Painter told Invest:. 

What are your hallmarks of success in terms of managing the pandemic’s challenges?

Bob KlausBob Klaus: We were definitely among the most affected industries and we were effectively closed for the past year. There are two things that we are proud of, looking back. First, though we were not hosting events — we normally have 200 events a year with almost 500,000 people coming through DPAC’s doors — we were able to utilize our time to challenge our staff to do everything possible to not only get ready to reopen when that day arrives but also to go back and look at all of our safety procedures and cleaning protocols. We wanted to do everything we could to use that time so that when we reopen, we will be among the best, most prepared venues in America. We did a really good job with that over the past months. 

The other thing we are really proud about is that though we were closed for events, we continued to reach out to the community in a number of ways. We’ve hosted online food drives among the DPAC community, for example. Those food drives have raised over $100,000 working together with a great partner, the Inter-Faith Shuttle Food Bank. That fundraising effort generated meals in the thousands for those most in need in our area. One of the other things that we started doing and supported in a big way was working with the Blood Connection, a big regional donor organization. We held blood drives that, based on their data, have been integral to saving thousands of lives. 

Kerry PainterKerry Painter: Before the pandemic, we took events, arts and entertainment for granted. More now than ever, people appreciate the value we bring to the community and, as we get back to business, there will be a heightened awareness and appreciation of the magic and connection that is only possible with in-person events.

In terms of working, we underestimated the convenience and creativity that used to accompany the spontaneous discussions that would occur throughout the workday, from passing someone in the hallway to stopping by an office for a quick chat. Conversation now requires checking calendars, meeting invites and managing calls. As a team, we’ve learned to pivot, to be resilient and even more flexible. We’ve found the opportunity in having to do things differently and we’ve enjoyed working with clients to re-shape their events without affecting its overall impact or message. Of course, the safety of our staff, clients, and guests has always been our first priority. Our building is now GBAC STAR accredited, which is the gold standard of clean for facilities like ours. Our facility has always been well-maintained and spotless and now we are also certified in prevention, recovery and response. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to exceed our already rigorous standards and anything that furthers our ability to keep everyone safe is always a win.

How long will it take to get to pre-pandemic event levels? 

Klaus: There are several different opinions on how fast people will come back to large events, large gatherings, and places like DPAC, but we are very optimistic. Our season ticket program, Truist Broadway at DPAC, has 16,000 members who buy ticket packages of seven or eight shows. Among those members, we have seen less than 5% request refunds over the past year. That means that despite the tough economic times and not knowing exactly when the shows would be rescheduled, 95% of our members stuck with us. In our ongoing customer dialog, those members are highly optimistic about the future. All we hear from them is that they can’t wait to get back to DPAC and get back to the special life experiences that we have all missed this year. 

Painter: The industry is ready, clients are excited to start planning in-person and hybrid events, and people are ready to travel. Corporations that initially did not plan to have events this year are starting to host smaller meetings. Sporting events and family activities have picked up, from a 5,000-person volleyball tournament to a weekend-long roller skating event in our Exhibit Hall. We’re all yearning for the connection and networking that is only possible in face-to-face settings. The challenge now is creating experiences that are not only safe but make financial sense for the organizer. Conventions often require sponsors and, without trade shows or similar elements to cover the cost of the meeting, organizers cannot justify an event. Without a roadmap, it can require a great deal of creativity and flexibility, but the RCC is adept at both. We’re ready to work with planners to make it happen. 

What is your outlook for the entertainment and events sector in Raleigh-Durham? 

Klaus: We are really optimistic. We know that the shows are more anxious than ever to get out on tour and our calendar is as busy as ever. Every venue has a booking calendar where you hold a date while the show confirms their routing from city to city. If you were to look at our booking calendar, there are sometimes eight shows in a row vying for dates. We’re going to be really busy. More than ever, entertainment buyers in general are eager to get back out there. We have always prided ourselves on having something for everyone. We’re going to have lots of great shows. We’re going to be among the safest, best prepared venues anywhere in the country. 

Painter: I’m really optimistic about the next eighteen months. Raleigh is a fantastic city that people fall in love with, from its community-driven ethos, thriving tech, science and education sectors, and its focus on celebrating diversity and fostering inclusion. Because the pandemic caused so many plans to change and shift, we’re now having conversations with event planners that we have chased for years and we’re being given the opportunity to bid on multi-year events. People are as excited to be welcomed back as we are to have them. Things have changed drastically over the last 13 months but there is so much to look forward to, both in the events and meetings industry and here in Downtown Raleigh.

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