Acting General Manager Tom Grenell sees Cambria County War Memorial Arena as the core or biggest economic driver in downtown Johnstown.
“My view of the War Memorial and other arenas in towns is they are the fastest way to increase dollars that can be spent in one fell swoop,” Grenell said. “We had 3,000 people for the recent Third Day concert, and they used other services, too.”
Grenell said economic times have changed in Johnstown with no single place where 3,000 people are employed anymore.
“We can bring in a vast number of people and do it efficiently so everybody benefits – tourism, city garages and mom- and-pop parking for $5,” the Johnstown native said. “It’s so essential to have a healthy arena in Johnstown. Arenas and sports teams bring a quality of life. They’re at the core of the economic drivers. They bring in more family-sustaining jobs and are a great use of public dollars to jump-start private sector dollars.”
Grenell said a Christian concert might not be as profitable to the War Memorial as comedian Bill Cosby, but the effect is the same outside the arena when it comes to brick-and-mortar businesses.
“Customers still need to buy food and gas, and not just in Johnstown,” he said. “They could stop at The Galleria. At the end of the day, prove to me that the arena can’t make a difference. If we closed tomorrow, businesses like Scott’s By Dam and the Holiday Inn would be affected.”
One of Grenell’s favorite shows as far as the audience was concerned was a sold-out Gaither Homecoming concert when four to five buses were expected and a phenomenal 55 pulled into town.
Grenell believes SMG, which manages the War Memorial, is making a big difference in the arena’s health.
“The concert lineup of national artists speaks for itself,” he said. “We’ve had some of the biggest and brightest stars. This is driven by SMG’s ability to have relationships across the country, making acts available to come to Johnstown.”
An example was the Justin Moore country concert on April 19.
“These acts can play in any town, and we’re competing,” Grenell said. “Moore isn’t coming to Bryce Jordan, he chose to play here because of the SMG relationship. We’ve been really blessed.”
Another huge economic impact on the region wasn’t even a ticketed event.
“When the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to Johnstown for four weekends last year, the economic impact was second to none,” Grenell said. “Every hotel room was booked, and you couldn’t get seating at area restaurants. It was 100 percent because of the SMG affiliation that the Jehovah’s Witness conference came to town.”
Christian music concerts have done extremely well at the War Memorial with top performers such as Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, Tobymac, Mercy Me and Third Day drawing near capacity crowds.
Grenell said Saturday’s Newsboys concert was expected to do well.
“Every day we try to get better,” Grenell said. “We’ve become more competitive with events and customers. We value the money people are spending and are grateful. We want to welcome them.”
No matter what type of event is held at the arena, Grenell’s questions are did the audience enjoy the show, was parking available and was it easy for them to get in and out of town.
Without a doubt, Grenell believes in Johnstown and the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
“I’m the biggest fan of both,” he said. “I’m passionate about the economic side. What
drives me to be passionate is I grew up with public service as a philosophy.”
Grenell is the son of Johnstown businessman Denny Grenell.
The future of the War Memorial is to reach beyond the one-hour radius into Bedford and Somerset counties and even Garrett County, Maryland.
Grenell has seen the audience’s home turf branch out to within three hours of Johns-
town, with people coming in from Altoona and State College, and has seen ticket holders come from Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan and Canada.
In a sampling of 20,000 of last year’s ticket buyers, it was found that 63 percent were non-Cambria residents.
Some came from Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Connecticut.
When it comes to sporting events, Grenell believes the PIAA regional wrestling championships are a perfect fit for the arena.
“When they come here from a high school gym, they’re one step away from the state championship,” he said.
“They get a chance to practice at a smaller arena before the states. The Holiday Inn was sold out Friday and Saturday, and Pizza Deli did tremendous business. They ask me who I’m bringing in, not for themselves to see, but for customers. We can bring them revenue.”
With the advent of the Johnstown Tomahawks, Grenell is thrilled to have a hockey tenant back in the building.
“We’ve gotten good feedback in the community about the Tomahawks,” he said. “They’re a wonderful addition to the War Memorial.”
With the Penguins in Pittsburgh and the Tomahawks in Johnstown, Grenell said we will be sure to see a growth in youth hockey.
“It will have a ripple effect, especially with Division I hockey coming up at Penn State,” Grenell said.
“That will further grow hockey in the region. We can grow a hockey culture. Years ago when everyone was worrying if the Chiefs would leave, I was worried if the Penguins would leave.”
Grenell’s future plans for the arena include signage, parking passes and going green.
Signage steering out-of-town and out-of-state customers to the arena would make it more accessible.
“I’m working with the city and PennDOT to get some signs to make it easier for them,” he said. “There are no signs on the highways for the War Memorial.”
Grenell also hopes to use Ticketmaster to sell parking online.
“You could just click on a parking pass,” he said. “It would make the customer experience better.”
Grenell said he is seeing dividends with Ticketmaster and hopes to come out with a second outlet for local customers in the near future.
“Now with smart phones, you can go to one concert and hear about opening ticket sales for a Tomahawks game,” he said. “The more we use it, it’s likely we’ll sell more. Ticket buyers are more informed, and my goal is to sell tickets. We need to follow the marketing trends, and they’re always evolving.”
Grenell is going for grants that would switch out existing lighting fixtures, which date back to 1950, to LED lights.
He also would like to get grants to have the equally old flooring replaced and go geothermal.
“I want to keep the tax dollars stretched,” he said. “Our $7,000 electric bill could go to $4,000 with the new lighting. We’re doing lighting in the offices one at a time with our maintenance team. We want to shrink the need to spend money on energy. We’re on the path to being one of the greenest and most efficient arenas in the country.”
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