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One on One with Tom Harwood

Tom Harwood is the new leisure services manager for the City of Estevan. He began working in Estevan Aug. 15. Where are you from? I was raised in Princeton, B.C. Prior to being in Prince George, B.C.
Tom Harwood, leisure services manager.

Tom Harwood is the new leisure services manager for the City of Estevan. He began working in Estevan Aug. 15.

Where are you from?
I was raised in Princeton, B.C. Prior to being in Prince George, B.C., I spent 11 years at the University of Victoria, both going to school and working. I spent a total of 17 years in Victoria, and more recently up in Prince George. I also worked with Vancouver curling club; the City of Chilliwack in their arenas division; Recreational Bay, which is a municipality within the city of Victoria. I've also worked in arenas in Princeton, and in a curling club in Princeton.

What were you doing before you moved to Estevan?
I was at the City of Prince George, B.C. I worked as the manager of the CN Centre. It's a 6,000 seat event centre that hosts the WHL Cougars, concerts and events. Whenever we didn't have something going on, the local community used it as an ice rink.

What were your responsibilities doing that?
I was responsible for the operations. Anything to do with the facility. The staffing, hiring, discipline, maintenance. I had a maintenance staff, I had a cleaning staff, I had another crew for concerts and things like that. Anything that happened in the building, I was responsible for. Ensuring that when we had a concert, we did the set up and take down for the concerts. I was responsible for saying yes or no for whether something could be accomplished. Sometimes people want to do things that the floor won't be able to handle, or the rafters wouldn't be able to handle. You have to be able to say yes or no to these things.

Did you meet many interesting performers while working in Prince George?
We had a really good time the last three years that I was there. I met Elton John, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Jeff Dunham, Larry the Cable Guy, ZZ Top, Buckcherry, Papa Roach, Blue Man Group. I have a really nice picture with the Blue Man Group: blue tie, blue faces. I had a pretty great experience with the entertainers that came to facility.
We did things like bull riding, and monster trucks. It wasn't just drop a floor down, throw a concert in. We opened the venue up to whatever the public wanted to see.
Once a year, one of the local church groups would invite all the churches within about 150-200 miles. They would come in and they would clean it so that they felt it was appropriate for their venue and then they would hold two-day church meetings and church goings. So we were very open - it was an events centre. It was for the community. We had all the high school grads and and the college grad in our facility. It got well used and people enjoyed it.

How important is community to your position?
A facility cannot be completed without a community saying "Yes, this is what we want and here is our commitment, both corporate and personal." People pay the taxes and taxes pay for it. So at an ice rink, a lot of times you have people who figure skate, play hockey, maybe broomball. They're a very niche group that gets to use an arena. With an events centre, we're trying to bring in events and provide a facility that the community, everybody in the community, can then use. We would bring in Charlie Pride, because there are people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who just love Charlie Pride. He's a very amazing entertainer; he's a funny guy. We would try to focus on trying to bring in different events for different age groups. So (Charlie Pride) would bring in the older people. I have pictures of myself with the Sesame Street people and with the Backyardigans, because I have a seven and a five-year-old child (and a six-month-old) but this was to bring in those younger families. We'd have events like that. And then you'd bring in country and rock, and things like video games live for the youth, the 14-to 30-year-olds. We try to ensure that we brought a nice mix in. It's got to be something bigger than just an ice rink.

Is this the vision you have for Spectra Place?
I have a vision of recreation. Spectra is one part of the position. We have an aquatic centre, we have a seniors' centre attached, we have a library, we have a whole lot of parks, we have trail systems, sports parks, baseball diamonds, soccer fields. I think because I do have that belief that it's for community, I think that does fit well with the leisure manager position with the City of Estevan because what we're trying to do is make sure everybody knows we have an aquatics area. It has access for the young kids, swimming lanes for people who want to do that, and a waterside. It's an amazing facility for a town this size. To make sure that people know we have it and use it. Let them know about the different parks around their houses. In the summer, people want to get outside. I know they want to head to a lake, and spend a week by a lake, but they have to realize that within the city, in an evening, they can go walk and have their kids play or have themselves go for a nice walk along a trail. It's a park-like setting: you can get away from your work day in the city.

How did you find out about the Estevan position?
It was a head hunting company that actually came to me. Raven Group presented the position to me. I ended up with a Skype meeting with the city manager, the operations manager, and the HR person, Calvin. In the Skype meeting, they were very open, they were joking amongst each other. It was a great atmosphere. So I took a trip to Estevan, checked out the schools, checked out what's available for my children and my wife, things like that. It seemed like a good fit for us as a family. We decided it would work well for us.

How are you finding Estevan so far?
I just started getting into meetings with the management team. I went to council last night. Council seems like they get through things quickly. They have a good understanding of what's going on in the city. It's not a very large city, and they all live it, and they seem to be in-tune with what's going on and get through stuff quickly.
The staff so far, I've found, are quite professional and they're passionate. The thing that I'm here to do is try and provide them some leadership and try and help them focus on trying to get the people in here, and let them know what we have.

What are you most looking forward to doing here in Estevan?
The fun stuff coming up immediately is the grand opening for a brand-new facility. That's the easy fun stuff. I come into a position, two weeks later we have TSN in the community. So there's a lot of easy, fun stuff that I'm looking forward to immediately. Once we get passed that, recreation. The majority of people coming through the door in recreation are happy, they want to be there. It's a fun atmosphere.

Anything specific that you'd like to see happen in Estevan?
I'm starting to have management meetings with the events and marketing person later on this week. When you open up a new facility, people don't know what you have, people don't know your name, people don't know how they're going to route to your facility. What we need to do is get the word out. We need to also sit down and identify what the people want to see, whether that's voting on a website or on Facebook or some social media, or whether it's going out and talking to the radio station, saying "What music are people requesting?" We have to find out what people want to see. If we bring in an event and nobody wants to see them, we're not helping the community and we've dropped the ball. So we have to identify that, we have to identify what they want to see, and we have to make sure we get the word out that this is what we can provide and this is how we can host. And once we get those two things going and on a roll, for the first little while it will be difficult to get people to come here. Once a couple of promoters bring some people and find out that ya, it's a great place and we have flooring and staging, we have a lot of things here that we don't have to rent or bring. So what ends up happening is that it makes it easier for a show to come, and then it's figuring out who we want to try and get. Some artists, like Nickelback, have contracts that say they won't come into a venue of less than 10,000 seats. We don't have it. So we have to find out which artists are filling to do the 2,000 to 2,200 seats and then start bringing in the events, start bringing in what people want to see, what we can get into the venue.

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