Tammy Koolbeck

Executive Director, Stephens Auditorium



Tammy Koolbeck has been on so many calls with members of Congress over the past year — roughly 50 — that she should have a reserved seat in the Capitol chambers.

As board chair of the International Association of Venue Managers’ effort to secure federal relief for public assembly facilities closed during the pandemic, Koolbeck has done most of the heavy lifting involved in organizing calls among legislators, building operators and lobbyists.

For the industry as a whole, it’s been a massive effort to communicate with members of Congress and get them to understand how sports and entertainment venues operate and are funded by public entities.

Bottom line, through those calls, emails and letters initiated through IAVM, the group was able to broaden the definition of nonprofit status to expand eligibility for stimulus money. Convention centers, for example, are covered under that designation.

Separately, Koolbeck participated in video conference calls with colleagues through VenuWorks, her employer, and other trade groups tied to events such as the Event and Arena Marketing Conference.

“It’s been a lonely existence, as our venues were the first to close and will be the last to (fully) reopen,” she said. “Venue managers were making tough decisions on furloughs and layoffs, and being able to talk through heartbreaking times made the load a bit easier” to bear.

Her full-time job is running the Iowa State Center on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The center encompasses 2,600-seat Stephens Auditorium and three smaller facilities.

After the shutdown of most sports and entertainment venues, Koolbeck and her VenuWorks staff created socially distanced events for 500 people on the theater floor. Those events tied in with local arts organizations whose primary performance spaces were too small for live audiences in the new format.

In addition, VenuWorks relocated its Goldfinch Room singer/songwriter performances from a listening room on Stephens’ ground floor to outdoors on the theater’s lawn space last summer.

VenuWorks built a new portable stage for the outdoor shows, painted socially distanced ovals on the lawn and brought in a food truck for each performance. Admission was $5.

Early this year, those shows have moved back inside Stephens, but Koolbeck said the outdoor setup proved so successful that the series will resume this summer when staff would typically take a three-month break.

Koolbeck’s career in facility management dates to the mid-1990s with the old Ogden Entertainment, and later Compass Facility Management, which evolved into VenuWorks. She ran multiple venues in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before taking a corporate role with VenuWorks.

In 2015, Koolbeck returned to running buildings and moved to Ames.

— Don Muret