Here’s a little trivia that’ll leave you stumped: What do Sonny Bono, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison have in common with the Broomfield Event Center? And no, it’s not that they are all performers who would never play the young arena.
It turns out they all shared drinks and laughs with the man just hired to revamp the Broomfield Event Center during a party at Diana Ross’ house a few decades ago.
Gene Felling started this month as the new general manager; he’s been in entertainment for 35 years—most recently as GM of Los Angeles’ storied Forum—but he points to that party as proof of why he loves his job.
“You don’t get to go to events like that unless you’re in the biz,” he says.
Now he’s in a position to help the city-owned, 6,000-seat facility start booking the kind of talent expected of the $43-million facility. He’ll have to stave off competition in a crowded market that includes venues such as the Budweiser Event Center, Wells Fargo Arena and Ritchie Center.
“There’s a lot of choices in that range,” says Chuck Morris, president of AEG Live Rocky Mountain Region, one of the largest event promoters in the metro area. “(Felling is) certainly going to help.”
For the 55-year-old Felling, taking the Broomfield post was a chance to come back to Colorado where he spent the 1990s building a name for himself.
“We love LA, but our heart was already in Colorado,” he says. “It was just kind of a natural thing to do.”
Coming back and seeing a sparkling new venue with great metro area location were enough to lure him.
“They just needed someone with professional experience to make it work,” Felling says. “It’s a great building. It has tremendous potential.”
That potential has gone largely ignored in its first year, however. After Bonnie Raitt opened it in November, few others followed, including a summer bill that had just one concert, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The two minor league teams—the Colorado 14ers and Rocky Mountain Rage—played in front of sparse crowds. Only a few other ticketed events came.
“I had expected a little bit more use of the facility as far as the entertainment and stuff,” says Linda Reynolds, a Broomfield City Council member.
But the view from inside isn’t so bad. Rick Nichols, chief operating officer of Broomfield Sports and Entertainment that owns the arena, paints a picture of a soon-to-be thriving venue experiencing typical growing pains.
“I looked at it for a first-year arena in a major market,” says Nichols, who came to the event center in January as a consultant before landing a fulltime title. “There has been quite a bit of activity—in fact I would say that’s a pretty good success story.”
Despite the lack of blockbuster headliners, the Broomfield Event Center has lured high school graduations, a business event with Gov. Bill Ritter as the keynote and, most recently, the statewide 2008 Republican convention, he says.
Enter Felling. Looking at his resume, even pessimists would have to assume he’ll start bringing top-tier attractions to Broomfield. Felling started at The Forum as an event coordinator in 1975 (yeah, that Forum made famous by the Los Angeles Lakers and numerous Hollywood A-list events). Years later, 1989 to be exact, he helped get Fiddler’s Green in Englewood off the ground before doing the same at Pepsi Center.
He counts Morris, Jason Miller and Adam Friedman his friends—all three are among the biggest names in Denver concert promotions. “Decades-old friends,” he calls them.
“It’s a good move for the hall to do that,” says Morris of hiring Felling. “It gives it instant credibility.”
Right off the bat, Felling expects to begin luring mid-level concerts by bands not quite big enough to fill the Pepsi Center—The Fray, The Killers, White Stripes—but still wanting to cram 6,000 to 7,000 fans.
Then, he’ll work on luring family events such as ice skating shows—those typically book more than a year in advance.
“It’s perfect for the concerts, it’s perfect for the family shows,” he says.
It’s just too bad Felling’s notoriety can’t pull living members of The Beatles he met at Diana Ross’ house back together, and to Broomfield.