Life Along the Streetcar with Tom Heath from The Heath Team Nova Home Loans

This week, we’re going to speak with Glenn Grabski. He’s a general manager of the Tucson Convention Center. We’re going to learn about that fabulous property and also hear the story of how Glenn’s involvement with the Rolling Stones and the Wiggles led him away from Tucson and how he got back.

Today is October 16th, my name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to “Life Along the Streetcar”.

Each and every Sunday our focus is on Social, Cultural and Economic impacts in Tucson’s Urban Core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the U of A and all stops in between. You get the inside track- right here on 99.1 FM, streaming on DowntownRadio.org- we’re also available on your iPhone or Android using our very own Downtown Radio app. Reach us by email contact@lifealongthestreetcar.org — interact with us on Facebook at LifeAlongTheStreetcar and follow us on Twitter @StreetcarLife

Our intro music is by Ryanhood and we exit with music from The Poets, “Wooden Spoon.”

Transcript (Unedited)

Good morning. It’s a beautiful sunny in the old pueblo. And you’re listening to KT DT, Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour us on your downtown Tucson community sponsored Oracle radio station.

This week, we’re going to speak with Glenn Grabski. He’s a general manager of the Tucson Convention Center. We’re going to learn about that fabulous property and also hear the story of how Glenn’s involvement with the Rolling Stones and the Wiggles led him away from Tucson and how he got back.

Today is October 16, 2022. My name is Tom Heath and you are listening to life along the streetcar. Each and every Sunday, our focus is on social, cultural and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about, from a mountain to the University of Arizona and all stops in between. You get the inside track right here on 99.1 FM, streaming at Downtown Radio.org. Also available on your iPhone or Android using our very own Downtown Radio app. And

if you want to reach us on the show, our email address is contact@lifelongthistreecard.org. That same URL has our past episodes and links to how you can purchase our book. You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook and where you listen to your favorite podcasts. Hard to imagine, but it was five years ago today that I was planning my very first show, episode Number One of Life Along the Streetcar, october 17 of 2017. And I was in the studio on air, all nervous and worried about how people are going to receive this show. And it’s five years later and I’m so excited from that very first interview with Roger Feifer of Mission Garden. He and I stay in contact and have done several interviews together that Mission Garden has been part of our book. But to have that interview launching the show in 2017 was very special. And of course, the second part of episode one was the Ten West Impact Festival. So our show very first show in the air was the history and culture of Tucson going back centuries

and what’s coming to the future of our region. It was a fun, fun show. October 17, 2017. Appreciate all support, especially from those downtown radio that have allowed me to be on here. And I think I followed DJ Bank the musical Bum every show and he’s always been a great way to lead in and cannot do this without the team that helps me put together the shows. James Portus, who helped me with my book and helps me on social media and does some editing on the audio. So. James. Thank you. And also a huge shout out to Ryan Hood because for five years their song Dillinger Days has been the intro for Life Along the Streetcar. Five years.

Long time.

Appreciate you, love you. Thanks for all the support. And our guest today, Glenn Grabski, he’s got a phenomenal story. So I want to jump right into his interview, but he’s running the convention center downtown, which is going through amazing transformations. But Glenn’s Path from the University of Arizona back to Tucson is amazing.

Glenn Grabsky, general manager at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Tucson Convention Center that’s undergone some changes recently. How long have you been with that facility?

I’ve come right up on eight years next month that I came back to Tucson. The building, the Tucson Prevention Center went under private management in October of 2014 and I came in shortly thereafter.

Okay, so it’s privately managed? It’s not part of the city?

No, it used to be managed by the city. They went out to RFP and a company called SMG won the contract. SMG merged with another company called AG Facilities and it’s now ASM Global. ASM Global manages about 350 buildings around the world in the state of Arizona. We also manage the State Farm Stadium and Heila River Arena. Or I think it’s now the Desert Diamond Arena up in Glendale.

So they manage the property, but the land itself, is that still owned by the city or is that owned by Ri and Nuevo? Is there a combination there?

Well, the campus part of it is owned by Rio Nuevo, the arena, basically the arena and the convention center itself. And they lease it to the city. And the city owns the music hall in the Leo Rich Theater.

Okay.

And all of that also on the campus?

All of that is undergoing such a transformation, which we’re going to talk about in a few minutes. But before we get to that, I got to talk about how Glenn gets to this role because when I talk a few months ago, I found out you kind of have a very interesting path to Tucson and the Tucson Convention Center.

Yeah. I started off this business really my freshman year at the University of Arizona. I got pulled into working on the it was, at the time HOA concert. It was a student run concert committee and I got hooked right away and actually stayed around an extra year so I can just run the program. And at the time we were doing lots of big shows on campus and everything. This was back in the early 80s. Once I graduated, I was a concert promoter, rock promoter, and Tucson was one of my markets. Used to do shows at India Arena for many years and then I was on the road and I got on the road for about twelve years or so.

Yeah, you’re sort of burying the lead there. Tell me about what on the road means.

So I started as a tour accountant, primarily. Tour accountant’s job is to get the band paid each night and attract their expenses fences on the road. But I started off and spent many years with Kenny Rogers. Kenny Rogers Productions, based in first La, then Nashville, did a stint with a band called 38 special. Did stint with the Rolling Stones when I was handling corporate sponsorships. And I got talked into from the production manager of the Rolling Stones at the time, talking into going out with a family show, barney, the Purple Dinosaur.

Fabulous.

Yeah. So it was a wide range of different acts that I was working with.

Who was harder to work with, McJagger or Barney?

Well, the guy in the costume is my best friend, and actually, Mick and company, they were really good guys to work with. Part of what I had to do every night was work a meet and greet for some VIPs, and they were fantastic about it. They’re really good. I really enjoyed that tour.

So as a tour accountant, is working on sponsorships. You really are. I mean, you’re interacting with the band regularly. So I was always wondering, like, on tour, if they have this big entourage, how many people actually do connect with the stars on that tour.

Yeah, obviously, each tour is a little different. Each artist is a little different and how they want to handle their entourage and stuff. But yeah, as tour manager or tour accountant, you’re dealing with the artist every day.

Interesting. And I know you from things we’ve talked about previously. You’re a big time golfer. Did you get to do any of these? A lot of these people are golfers. Did you get to go out and play with them?

Yes. I have to say that Kenny’s tour was the best golfing tour I’ve ever been on. We planned it around some golf courses. We were able to have some days off so we can go play pebble and whatnot, and we were able to get on some liquor courses.

Kenny Rogers scheduled his tour. His tour?

Well, it would seem how to manage to work out, to say, hey, we should have a day off this day. And it seemed to work out back when I was working with them and stuff. He actually built an 18 hole golf course in his front yard at his place that he had in Georgia. He was a good guy. I do miss him. He passed away a couple of years ago. He was a really solid guy.

Yeah, I had an 18 hole golf course in my front yard, but it was a putt putt course, and it was pretty much just one hole. We just moved the different obstacles in the way there.

Yeah.

So you’re on the road. I know from an outside perspective, it sounds fun. You’re hanging out with stars, you’re going golfing. I’m sure it’s grueling to be all that time, but at some point there’s a transition that happens from that to Tucson.

What kind of yeah. So I started working for a company called Lyric Studios that became Hit Entertainment. We had some preschool properties, and I was in charge of all the live touring worldwide and obviously Barney. Then we had an intellectual property called bob the Builder. And during that time, we helped launch the Wiggles in the United States. And they got whitehot. They were whitehot property. And I finished up working for them directly and just for them. And I got called some years back and about getting back, cut more into the arena business with AG facilities. And I went to go work for the arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Hornets play, and I was doing the programming there.

Okay, how long did that last?

That last about eight years. This opportunity came open. I was talking with a Live Nation promoter out of Phoenix one summer, and he was talking about it going to private management, SMG. So I called SMG and said, please consider me for this position because I have blood in this building. I have done shows. I know it. I know this market, and I was fortunate enough to get to position.

Wow. That’s full circle. The timing of everything was very serendipitous.

Yeah. I’ll tell you how full circle it is. A conference table in my office, it’s still here. I remember selling shows on that table with the facility back in the 80s. It hasn’t moved. I’m not going to get rid of it.

So you’re on one side of Taylor, you come back and you’re on the other now. Absolutely amazing. Well, eight years ago, that’s a pretty influential time here in Tucson as well. The current Board of Renowable took over, and we’ve interviewed Edmund and Fletcher from the Renowable board previously, and they both have talked about one of their first priorities was really to work on the convention center in the arena. And I would imagine that was taking place around the time you were coming on board.

Yeah, when I got here, they were finishing up basically on most things, getting to the punch list. So, first day walking in here, I think one of my first meetings was a construction meeting, and I got handed a folder and went down there. And ever since then, it’s been construction of some sort. Every year, thankfully. Real on the Wavelen has been great with that. So what they did with the arena was fantastic. From the restrooms to concession stands to seating and everything else, they did a fantastic job. And then we straight into from there, we went into improving the locker rooms for the road runners. That was interesting because I think that deal was signed into May and all that construction to improve the locker rooms and what other facilities they needed was done by October 1. Wow. That year. So I think that was 16.

It’s a little faster than things are getting done these days.

Isn’t that the truth? At that time we’re finishing up, we had to start sitting around the table, like, what’s next? What do we need? What does this place need? And obviously most of the facilities, like they’re in at the time, before the renovation, hadn’t been touched including restrooms, and the meeting rooms were outdated. And we always felt I always pitched that we needed additional meeting rooms closer to the exhaust floors and just additional breakout space to be a competitive convention center. And fast forward to a couple of years ago that started with this latest renovation that we’re wrapping up now. Still dealing with punch lists, but they really touched all over the campus, and anyone who has not been down here in a while in a couple of years will come on campus, and it’s completely different.

We’re going to pick up our interview with Glenn Grabsky in just a moment, but I want to remind you that you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio 99.1 FM and available for streaming on Downtownradio.org.

Greetings and salutations, Downtown radio listeners. Haley O Dave, your unfrozen caveman DJ, here to spread the good word about the Scrambled Sunrise Rock Mix, happening every weekday morning from seven to 09:00 A.m. Right here on Downtown radio from the earliest days of Psych punk and new wave to 80s college rock, 90s alternative, and the ongoing wave of 21st century indie rock. It’s all right here on the Scrambled Sunrise. So tune in via 99.1 FM if you’re in the greater downtown area or streaming worldwide via Downtownradio.org.

Just before the break, we were talking to Glen Grabsky and he was describing how beautiful the campus was, and we’re going to pick it right back up in the middle of that interview, talking about the Tucson Convention Center campus and things happening in our urban core.

Yeah, I’m out there. I wouldn’t say every week, but I’m out there frequently. And a few months ago, with help of renewal, water was put back into the Plaza and that Garrett Echo designed landscape architectures back alive. It’s kind of a beautiful and serene place to be.

Yeah, it’s fantastic. I think it’s one of the prettiest places in Tucson. Should definitely be one of the most photographed. And they redid all the landscaping, and when we did that, they pulled in a reclaimed water line. So having fountains in the desert sometimes raises people’s eyebrows, but it’s reclaimed water. Okay, so that’s good use for that water.

Absolutely. Now, the renovations, and we can dig a little bit more into it because there’s been music hall renovations, there’s a new hotel, but what does this mean? Road Runners. You mentioned them. Obviously they wouldn’t have come in the old arena. So the new arena brings the Road Runners. But what else happens when you have these talk about being more competitive? It’s not just for conventions, it’s other things, too. Concerts and such.

Yes, it’s interesting in this campus because we deal with all different types of clients and we’re dealing with four buildings, not just one. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of increasing programming in the arena. And the music hall and the Leo Rich is a great little theater and a great community house. So we try to maximize those calendars. And we’ve seen some great growth in concerts and ticketing programming since I’ve been here. The convention center was always kind of lacking lacking for a couple of reasons. One is no hotels. Obviously, with the new hotels that have opened up an area that helps a lot, and it’s also kind of getting dated. And now with that being updated and the new meeting rooms, which is about 16,000 meeting room space over adjacent to the exhaust floors, we are becoming more competitive. We are responding to more requests for proposals for conventions and association business down.

The road in the hotel. You mentioned that. And again, if you haven’t been down in the area, you might want to check it out. That’s the Double Tree that is actually connected directly to the convention center. That’s kind of a new thing for us.

Yeah, it’s fantastic. The double tree. And the double tree is doing great. They’ve been having sensational business since they opened. It’s connected to the point where we have glass doors that we will open up when there’s an event going on in the convention center so that people can walk just directly from the hotel into convention center hallways.

And someone just asked me this, and you may know, I don’t know the chef at the DoubleTree was a local chef that they had hired and has put out a really good menu. And I can’t remember her name right now.

Virginia Wooter.

Oh, yes. Okay, thank you.

You know why I know that name?

Why do you know that name?

She’s our chef now.

Oh, you stole her.

I wouldn’t say she stole her. She was looking for a position and yeah, Virginia is our executive chef. She’s fantastic.

Yeah. We had dinner at the DoubleTree soon after it opened, and I was just blown away because I think in your mind, this may not be fair to the brand, but I think of Double Tree as more of sort of an economy location. And when I went in there, I was like, man, this food is fantastic. The atmosphere was wonderful. The rooms were amazing. They even had pelotons. I don’t know if they still do. They had pelotons in some of the rooms.

Yeah, I don’t know about that. But I think they did a great job. I think the design, the look, the feel, the way they’re running that it’s a fantastic operation. And they’ve been noted as one of the top hotels in that flag. They’ve been good. But, yeah, I’m happy to have chef here. She is fantastic. And Phil just put out some great stuff.

And she’s got some downtown routes as well from her past.

Yes, absolutely.

So now I’m bringing that as an executive chef, bringing that to a world of patrons, which is fantastic.

No, it was interesting when I first got here and you started asking around like, okay, what do you think of the place? Or what about this? What about that? One of the big things I heard right off the bat was the food was awful and okay, well, that’s something that can be fairly easily addressed. And our executive chef at the time, Greg, who’s now our director of Food and Beverage, basically, we said, Let yourself go. Make it happen. Let’s not get too much caught in the weeds and let’s put out some good food. I think that helped turn this place around back six, seven, eight years ago. And our bank with business has grown steadily, and we’re take care of the bands backstage needs, and we’re getting good reviews with that, too good, I think.

Keep the bands happy. They want to keep coming back. Most of the big shows that are coming up are they in the arena?

It’s almost split coming up here, but we do most of our shows in the music hall. But coming up, I think in the next week or so, we have John Mulaney in the arena. A couple of weeks after that, we have Judas Priest in the arena. We got Greta Van Fleet in the arena. I think that holds us off through, I think, January. The rest of the stuff that’s coming up is in the music hall, recently.

Renamed Musical, as I understand.

Yes. The rest of musical. I think that it’s wonderful. It’s a great honor for anyone who’s not of age to really understand the significance of Linda Russet in the pop music scene. Needs to do some research because she was the top female artist of that time and not even close. Yeah.

And I understand it was having her present. And I think the mayor was very much a driving force in wanting that to happen. I agree with you. I think given Tucson’s history and her musical importance and significance, it’s just fantastic to have that. Not just the Ronstad. The Linda Ronstad music hall.

Exactly. And the ceremony was fantastic. It happened before the final performance associated with the Marriott Conference. And they had I apologize because I can’t remember which school it was. Mariachi band play, her offstage doing Blue Bayou. And I want to find out who it was, because the girl who sang that absolutely nailed it.

I understand.

But it was just very moving.

Yeah, I understand. It’s pretty emotional for Linda Ronstein as well. It was well, you mentioned some upcoming shows here. This is going to air on the 15th. So I think, looking at your calendar, we’re probably at the time of airing right in the middle of Disney on Ice.

Yes. We’ll be finishing up that’d be the weekend of Disney on Ice. The yearly attendance of Disney doing well. Always a great family show. Felt does a great job with that. We’ll also be, like I said, the next week we’ll have John Mulaney in. We also have another children’s property, Coco Million, live in a musical on the 19th in a musical on the 20th. That next weekend. We also opened up the roadrunner season. Their first home game is that Saturday the 22nd. And during this whole time, too, I cannot forget that Tucson and Symphony were home to them and Arizona Chamber Music and Arizona Opera. So they have their performances struck through here as well.

Is all that available on your website?

Yes. And you go to the first page. There’s an event page, but there’s also links out to the roadrunners and Tucson Symphony, Arizona Opera, Tucson Sugarskol.

Is that? Tucson.

More direct.

Tucson Convention Center?

Yeah, tucsonconventioncenter.com, okay.

And of course, link to that from our Facebook page so people can find that. And I guess the last question, one of the things that I get questions a lot about because as you may or may not know, I do tours in that general area and people are always asking about what the renovations will mean for the gem show. Do we think it’s possible it’s even going to get bigger?

Yes, I do. We just had meetings this last week with both of the shows. As you know, we have two shows here. Our first shows with American Gem and Trade Show Trade Association. It is a trade show, so it’s a B to B. And then obviously, we host what I like to call the Mother Shift tucson General Mineral Society, the one who started it all the second week. And that’s a consumer show. Both of them are expanding their footprint, utilizing the new meeting space. So they’re both growing. So we are anticipating a big gem show this year.

If you’ve not been down, I recommend you go check it out, even if it’s just to take a walk around the campus. It’s a beautiful facility that is just consistently moving into more of that sort of world class facility that I think we’re looking for in Tucson to take advantage of our weather and our great restaurants and bringing more people into the community.

Yeah, I think this is a great town. It’s a great town to sell to other people, to come in and host their events here. It’s a very unique city that I think has a lot to offer to visitors.

Well, Glenn Grabs, you are the general manager, the head honcho, the person in charge of the entire campus. You’ve got a lot of people working for you doing great things. I appreciate you taking out your time today and look forward to catching up with you on anything that’s new and developing. Don’t hesitate to share that with us.

Well, I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Gwen Grabsky of the Tucson convention center, also of Kenny Rogers, rolling Stone and Wiggles fame. My name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar on downtown Radio 99 One FM and streaming on downtownradio.org.

You’re listening to Ktdt, Tucson, Arizona 99, one FM downtown radio. I’m Brother Mark, host of a show called Radio Club Crawl that airs every Tuesday at 03:00 P.m.. We try to focus on most of the bands that are coming through Tucson, and we give you a tasty taste of their music. If you want to check out what’s happening around Tucson, check out Radio Club Crawl Tuesdays, 03:00 P.m., right here on Ktdt, Tucson, Arizona, 99.1 FM downtown radio.

Thank you very much.

Enjoy your evening. Bye bye.

Episode 222 and Five Years in the Book thank you again for sticking with us for five years.

If you’ve been around since the beginning.

And thanks for joining us along the way, always feel free to reach out to us by email. Contact at lifelong streetcar.org. Hit us up on Facebook or Instagram and let us know what’s going on out there. We appreciate you. Well, in honor of our fifth anniversary, which is Wood gift according to the traditional and silverware according to the modern list of gifts, I’m leaving you with a song from the poets in 2014 called Wooden Spoon. My name is Tom Heath. I hope you have a great week and tune next Sunday for more life along the streetcar.

Wooden Spoon.

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