On the Beat

Raleigh Convention Center’s new director stays the course

Raleigh Convention Center and other local arts venues have a new director, Doug Grissom.
Raleigh Convention Center and other local arts venues have a new director, Doug Grissom.

Doug Grissom has worked for the city of Raleigh for 28 years in various capacities, and he just took over as director of the Raleigh Convention and Performing Arts Complex. But his first day on the job was … a lot like any other day, actually.

“My first official act was replacing the hot-water heaters in the convention center’s main boiler room,” Grissom said. “Which sounds silly, but we had to plan around when there would be no food functions and then make sure everything was approved. Just because you put it in does not mean you’re allowed to turn it on.”

Some 60 candidates from across the country applied to replace former director Roger Krupa, who retired at the end of 2015 after 35 years of overseeing city venues including the convention center, Duke Energy Center complex and Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek and Red Hat amphitheaters. Assistant city manager Jim Green served as interim director during the search, which ended with the selection of Krupa’s assistant director. Grissom’s yearly salary as director is $120,000.

“I am extremely confident that he will continue the great work of the staff at the Convention and Performing Arts Complex,” city manager Ruffin Hall said of Grissom’s selection in a statement.

Short-term, the 52-year-old Grissom taking over means you won’t see much change with this year’s editions of Hopscotch, World of Bluegrass and other downtown festivals. The rest of 2016 should also be business as usual at the city’s outdoor facilities, Walnut Creek and Red Hat (even though Boston canceled its May 6 show at Red Hat).

“Red Hat, we’re looking at our strongest year with 37 shows,” Grissom said. “That’s the most of any season. Walnut Creek is also doing well. The last two years out there have been two of their best.”

Long-term, however, hot water might be an apt metaphor for the job Grissom just took because it’s an unsettling time. Raleigh Convention Center is supposed to expand in a few years, and that will have implications for Red Hat Amphitheater – which occupies the land earmarked for expansion and might be incorporated into it.

But it’s not clear how much long-term business the city can count on at Red Hat and the convention center –because of House Bill 2. Among other things, the “bathroom bill” that Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law in late March erased local civil-rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in North Carolina.

Entertainment has emerged as a key HB2 battlefront, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s cancellation of a Greensboro concert over the law in April. Since then, acts from Pearl Jam to violinist Itzhak Perlman have followed Springsteen’s lead and canceled performances.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, HB2 has also made Grissom’s job of attracting convention business to Raleigh more complicated. The latest estimate from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau puts Wake County’s lost economic impact at more than $4.6 million over HB2 cancellations. Add the potential lost income from 43 groups who have expressed concerns over the law, and another $35 million is in the balance.

“I think the most important thing we can do is to continue what the team does,” Grissom said. “That’s customer service, saying yes whenever we can, doing whatever the city council, city manager and public wants us to do. It’s a pretty simple message, continue on with that and be trained and prepared for whatever comes down the road. The groups who have come have all been happy with how they were treated here, the warmth and concern and hospitality.”

Still, HB2 represents another hurdle when it comes to recruiting conventions. Over time, a lot of the losses will be harder to quantify – maybe even impossible.

“It’s definitely affecting our industry,” Grissom said. “Any red flag makes people leery. We’ve seen some groups that were interested at one time, but now … they’re not. The big unknown is how this will affect things we can’t even identify. Our sales people went to a national conference to solicit groups, and North Carolina had an aisle. How many people did not even go down that aisle?”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi