SOEC hits its stride as it turns five

After struggling in its early years, the arena has finally turned the corner as it prepares for special anniversary next week

Five years ago sitting in her portable trailer for an office, Carla Seddon could see the vision for the South Okanagan Events Centre, even through a cloud of construction dust.

“I think all of the people who have been here since the beginning could see that vision.It was just a matter of taking all the steps, and they were some interesting steps along the way,” said Seddon, Global Spectrum’s senior marketing manager at the SOEC.

From all hands on deck frantically wiping down seats on Sept. 27, 2008, minutes before they opened their doors for the first time to the community for the inaugural event, the Penticton Vees versus the West Kelowna Warriors, to one million people visiting over five years, the SOEC has forever changed the face of entertainment and events in the South Okanagan.

“I think the negativity in the beginning towards Global Spectrum was one of the biggest challenges. There were certainly mistakes made on our side, but to know that you have this vision and the potential, but to read letters to the editor was a tough slog for a lot of our staff to constantly be hit with,” said Seddon.

“I think a lot of us took it as a personal challenge as well. We knew that Global Spectrum was a really good company and it was a matter of learning this city.

“It was put your head down and do everything to the best of your ability, and slowly but surely we turned it around.”

From the very first concert, Feist, to hosting mega-star acts like Brad Paisley and setting attendance records with Eric Church, a relationship developed with the SOEC, Global Spectrum and businesses so everyone could maximize the potential for the building.

Seddon said it was a matter of the company capitalizing on their knowledge of the business and learning the ropes in the city.

Part of that was learning what shows sell well, and so far it has been country music. They also have brought in an array of entertainment like Cirque du Soleil, Avicci, the Harlem Globetrotters and musicals to appeal to a wider demographic.

Seddon said having a leader in Dean Clarke, the general manager and recently announced regional vice-president for Global Spectrum, has proven to be a huge positive because they have leaned on his regional experience.

“It’s really funny to hear one of my friends in Kelowna ask why all the good bands are going to Penticton,” said Robert Appelman, president of the Penticton Hospitality Association.

“We want people to know that Penticton is a great town with big-city amenities. The SOEC has had a really big impact bringing events and tourists into town that stay overnight at hotels and motels.

“I have people staying overnight that live as close as Kelowna and Vernon because they are checking out the nightlife after a concert, event, convention or seminar.”

In an economic impact study of the SOEC, Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, Memorial Arena and Okanagan Hockey School Training Centre from Sept. 1, 2011 to Aug. 30, 2012 it shows $33.9 million in total economic activity, generating the equivalent to 368 jobs.

In a break down of information, using the Keith Urban concert as the example, the study counted 4,945 people in paid attendance with the biggest draw of people coming from the Okanagan region (3,026), outside of Penticton. Using their formula, the study says the concert generated $302,959.

Jim Cressman, president of Invictus Entertainment Group, has worked with Global Spectrum on bringing several acts to the SOEC.

Being a Penticton resident himself, Cressman said he applauds the city for constructing the building and seeing that it provides a great economic impact.

“I also applaud Dean Clarke and Global Spectrum for taking a very innovative approach to a tough business in concert promotion,” Cressman said.

“Penticton and the secondary markets which have been the focus of my company and touring have really stepped up over the years.

“We have just had incredible luck with growing these secondary markets because there is a hunger for the ticket-buying populous to enjoy something A-level in their home towns.

“I have to tip my hat to Global Spectrum, they have found innovative ways to make it work for the artist and work for promoters like myself.”

International artists, who have played on huge arena tours have also praised the SOEC.

Cressman said one of the coolest parts of his job is looking out into the audience to see people so excited that an artist of the magnitude of Brad Paisley or Carrie Underwood would come play their small town.

“Then seeing the artist who has 5,000 screaming fans singing back every lyric of every song they have ever put out,” said Cressman.

“In both cases of Keith Urban and Brad Paisley this happened and they came up to me after the show and said I want to do more places like this. This was amazing and why I do this.”

Kevin Webb, director of events and operation manager, who has previously helped open buildings in London, Ont. and the University of Phoenix Stadium before coming to open the SOEC said he too also saw the potential the building had when he came to Penticton during the construction phase.

Still, he never would have expected to have played host to some of the megastars they have.

“Who would have thought when we were sitting in a trailer for our office that Brad Paisley was going to be here, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Rihanna which was 20 trucks and a pink tank,” he said.

“The vision of what everyone wanted this building to be has happened.”

Developing relationships to bring in international acts is something the management of the SOEC has become so good at in the past five years, said Webb.

“Our phone is probably one of the first ones to ring when there is an opportunity to do a show just because of what we have done over the past five years,” said Webb.

“How we treat people, how the food tastes, the marketing, how many tickets they sell, all of that stuff plays into it.”

Now forging ahead, Webb said they hope the next five years are just as exciting as the first five.

Global Spectrum is inviting everyone to the SOEC on Sept. 27 at 5:55 p.m. to celebrate their five-year anniversary with the hopes of setting a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous high-fives prior to the Penticton Vees season home opener against the Merritt Centennials.

Participants are asked to arrive between 5 to 5:45 p.m. and at exactly 5:55 p.m. an aerial photo and video will be taken to document the participants.

The current record is 4,699 set in the U.S.

Before the world record attempt free hot dogs and pop will be given out as well as a commemorative five-year anniversary poster.

The festivities continue inside the SOEC with the puck dropping at 7 p.m.

There will be a ceremonial banner raising and the singing of the  national anthem by special guest Mark Donnelly of the Vancouver Canucks.

Concession specials will also be offered during the game.