Thank you to those who nominated and voted for these influential leaders. Venues Today is honoring these young professionals who make a difference in sports, music, conventions, family shows and festivals. Our annual Generation Next Awards honoring leaders 35 or younger will be profiled in the May issue of the magazine.

Congratulations to our 2016 VT Generation Next Award Recipients!

Laura Alexander
Director of Sales and Marketing, Spectra/Owensboro (Ky.) Convention Center, Age 35
Readers' Choice recipient

For re-creating and rebuilding the convention market for the Owensboro Convention Center. Laura is responsible for securing conventions, meetings and events for the new Owensboro Convention Center, managed by Spectra. She was tasked with placing Owensboro back in the rotation for much of the state’s association business. The city’s destination marketing organization does not have a convention sales team. Laura is the lead person for promoting, selling and booking Owensboro. Coupled with Spectra’s resources and “Bring Your Meeting Home” campaign, she booked more than 67 regional and statewide conventions, with 48 of those occurring in the first two years of operation, more than double the projected number. She also leads the local sales team for all other events, exceeding expectations since opening in 2014.

Matt Chapman
Director of Food & Beverage/Chef, VenuWorks/Swiftel Center, Brookings, S.D., Age 33

For growing income from food and beverage sales and services for the Swiftel Center by 6 percent in the last 12 months. Matt created the “Best Of Brookings” initiative as part of backstage catering as a hospitality service to provide local flavor to visiting artists and their crew. He selected key businesses to highlight specific foods including Bel Brands cheese, South Dakota State University ice cream and Wooden Legs Brewery root beer. He’s also grown concessions events consistently by at least 10 percent or more over 2014 sales by increasing menu options, offering specialty menus, offering made-to-order options, and by choosing more accessible locations for bar and beverage stations. Matt creates specific menus for attendees with food allergies and dietary restrictions and takes extra effort to provide improved accessibility to goods and services specifically to fulfill the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also implemented a strategy for his food and beverage team to successfully serve more than 1,700 attendees at one event in under 27 minutes.

Kelli Ireland
Director of Marketing and Sales, SMG/Canalta Centre, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Age 30

For blowing everyone away in her first director role by returning, after being away 12 years, to Medicine Hat, Alberta, to open the brand new Canalta Centre. Her love for the city, the entertainment industry, and her drive to compete against even the largest of markets has made her a stand-out and captured the ear of a city not accustomed to hosting large events. Having a background working with major promoters has served her well as she's been able to draw from a wide variety of marketing tools and strategies to build large social media networks and a strong media presence in Medicine Hat.

Trent Merritt
Regional Vice President, Spectra Venue Management and Food Services & Hospitality, General Manager, USF Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla., Age 31

For playing an integral role in winning the City Springs Performing Arts Center in Sandy Springs, Ga., and in opening the new Multipurpose Center in Petersburg, Va., at Virginia State University. A 12-year Spectra employee, Trent was promoted to Regional Vice President in October 2014. In addition to his role as Regional Vice President, he still serves as the general manager of the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla. Within the last year Merritt’s RVP responsibilities have expanded with Spectra Venue Management and Food Services & Hospitality to oversee eight accounts in the Commonwealth Region (Virginia), two accounts in Florida, and to provide support to all other Spectra Venue Management accounts in the Southeast Division.
Mike Warkentin
Venue Manager, Rexall Place at Northlands, Edmonton, Alberta., Age 31
Social Butterfly recipient

For being instrumental in leading the negotiations for the successful and amicable departure of long-term tenants, the Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton Oil Kings, as they finalize construction of their new facility in Edmonton.  Additionally, Mike has taken on the management and oversight of the 20-show K-Days Fair Concert Series ($1.6 million budget) and the three-day Canadian Finals Rodeo Concert Series ($500k budget). He is a key figure in the planning for Northland’s future and will certainly be one of the people to help shape our industry for years to come. Since taking the reins as venue manager for Rexall Place at Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta, Mike has helped lead one of the most successful venues in the world.  His current responsibilities include oversight for all sports and entertainment events worth nearly $37 million in annual gross revenue.