One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Barry Silberman is president of Centre Management, a firm that manages the Baltimore Arena, the Capital Centre and the Patriot Center.
Q. Give us a little of the history of Centre Management. When did it begin and who started it?
A. Centre Management is really a separate entity that grew out of the Capital Centre operation. Capital Centre opened its doors in December 1973, but our first opportunity to manage another facility was at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., on the campus of George Mason University, and we assumed a consultant's role with George Mason in 1984 and assumed the management of the facility in 1985. So I guess Centre Management as a stand-alone entity began somewhere around 1984.
Q. How many arenas do you now manage?
A. We're currently managing five arenas. The flagship of the fleet is the Capital Centre; . . . the Patriot Center in Fairfax; the Baltimore Arena; the Gampel Pavilion at the University of Connecticut; and the Springfield Civic Center and Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
Q. So Centre Management was the management of the Capital Centre, but then the people who were managing the Capital Centre formed a company to start managing other arenas?
A. Exactly. Abe Pollin and Jerry Sachs are the chairman of the board and the president of Centre Group. [They] made a decision that we had a high degree of expertise that had been built up throughout the years here and had several key management individuals that were now in a position to branch out and take on some broader horizons, and I guess gave us -- Abe and Jerry gave us our head to allow us to pursue other opportunities and see what we could do in terms of bringing our expertise to bear on other facilities and universities or cities that needed the specialized attention that we could bring to situations.
Q. How many people attended events at the Baltimore Arena last year?
A. Somewhere between a million one [hundred thousand] and a million two.
Q. When and why did you take over the management of the Baltimore Arena?
A. . . . In March of 1988, we began our negotiations with Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his people. We came in as consultants in the period of the end of September 1988 but assumed full managerial responsibilities starting Jan. 1 of 1989, and we had observed as a close neighbor throughout the years of the Baltimore Arena. We just observed that it was an opportunity for us where we thought we could improve the situation and saw that the facility had been running at a deficit and our proximity and knowledge of the market was such that we thought it was another situation that could be turned around and wanted to have an opportunity to turn it around. And I guess at the time, the mayor was considering privatization alternatives and it just seemed as if the conversation made a lot of sense and the negotiations went forward and ultimately resulted in us managing the building.
Q. Your chairman, Abe Pollin, said Centre Management would make the Baltimore Arena profitable in five years. You did it in two. How?
Q. Well, it was through a lot of hard work and effort which is all based upon trying to run the facility as a business and trying to be aggressive in terms of marketing all aspects of the facility. First of all, we came in and were able to take a look at the staffing that was on hand and in place prior to our coming in. And we felt as if there were people in positions where there didn't need to be people.
Q. There were too many?
A. Too many people. We thought that we really needed to consolidate operations and streamline the operations in a way to improve the service without losing or sacrificing any type of service that we could make available to people attending events or promoters that are bringing events to the doors, but that would positively impact upon the bottom line.
Q. How many people were laid off?
A. Part of the process when we came in involved transitioning city employees into other positions, and there were approximately 20 to 22 of those employees that were affected and there were about two or three people that I believe were not transitioned into other positions within the city.
Q. And now how many employees do you have at the Baltimore Arena?
A. We have approximately 40 full-time people.
Q. Did you take other steps to make the arena profitable?
Q. Yes, we did. We brought in a new concessionaire and negotiated a more favorable ultimate deal for the fortunes of the Baltimore Arena through bringing in that concessionaire. We also greatly enhanced our building advertising program and showed remarkable success at the type revenues that we've generated for the Arena in the two-year period . . . that we've been there.
Q. What's the building advertising program?