Stephens Auditorium, a 2,747-seat venue, and two smaller facilities make up the Iowa State Center complex.

VenuWorks maintains management contract for theater complex

Iowa State University has transferred oversight of the Iowa State Center complex to the athletic department as the Big 12 school seeks the added efficiency of running multiple venues under one entity, school officials confirmed.

The university’s operations and finance department had served as landlord for Iowa State Center, which is privately managed by VenuWorks. The firm’s headquarters are in Ames, which is also home to the university.

The center includes Stephens Auditorium, a 2,747-seat venue, and two smaller facilities: 454-seat Fisher Theater and the Scheman Building, an event space for campus meetings and community functions. 

The move was effective Aug. 1, according to an item published on the university’s internal news site. 

On its own, the athletic department runs Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State’s football stadium, and Hilton Coliseum, home to Cyclones basketball and wrestling as well as other sports programs.

In the item, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said, “Combining operations of our athletics venues with the Iowa State Center into one management portfolio will allow for greater efficiencies, enhancement of facilities and the opportunity to increase the value and benefit of the Iowa Center.”

In an email response to a question regarding the switch in landlords, Steve Peters, president and owner of VenuWorks, said, “The only change is that we are reporting up through the athletic department, instead of through the VP for finance. It is part of a larger reorganization by the university. We are still booking and operating the Center.”

VenuWorks’ five-year contract expires June 30, 2020, and no extension has been signed, as officials determine what’s best for the future of Iowa State Center, said Rob Schweers, director of communications for Iowa State’s senior vice president and provost office. 

“One of the benefits of making this internal change now is the athletic department can work more closely with VenuWorks to see what makes the most sense for the future, rather than make this decision at this time next year and then trying to figure that all out,” Schweers said.

“It’s not going to impact the programming that we offer as a university and that Ames and the larger central Iowa community benefit from,” he said. “We still have the Broadway series we do every year (among other events). All these things are important and will continue in the future.”

The move comes as Iowa’s three public universities all expect a decline in enrollment of roughly 500 students for the coming school year. It’s due in part to Iowa State, Iowa and Northern Iowa restricting enrollment to keep student populations at a manageable level to increase graduation rates, according to local media reports. Iowa State and Iowa have both increased base tuition rates for resident undergraduate students by 4 percent to help make up for the dip in enrollment. 

In Ames, there’s no connection between budget issues and Iowa State Center operations, Schweers said.

“It’s not like Iowa State Center is losing money and we need to do something different,” he said. “But we’re always looking for efficiencies we might gain from this move, from ticketing to parking and staffing for concerts and other big events to football and basketball games.” 

Potential upgrades to Iowa State Center venues are also part of the equation. Stephens Auditorium, for example, has not gone through a major renovation since it opened in 1969. There’s a wish list of improvements but nothing has been approved, Schweers said. The plan is for the athletic department, under Athletic Director Jamie Pollard’s leadership, to work with stakeholders and identify upgrades to improve the building for students, faculty, staff and visitors, he said.

Iowa State Center has been under private management for 31 years, dating to the old Ogden Entertainment in 1988, which was acquired by Aramark in 2000. Most of those deals were transferred to SMG, which Aramark owned 50 percent of at the time. The Hyatt Corp. owned the other half.

VenuWorks took over Iowa State Center in 2015. The company runs about 40 arenas, theaters, convention centers and outdoor venues, most in secondary markets across the Midwest.