October 06

Bob Coffey and SITCC Featured in PCMA Convene Online Magazine

Bob Coffey, General Manager of the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, recently did an interview with PCMA Convene Online Magazine about convention centers under new management. In the article Bob gave insight on managing the transition and more!  Check it out below:  


Savannah International Trade & Convention Center

Convention Center (SITCC) may be in a category by itself, because in April the facility transitioned from a third-party management company — SMG, which opened the building in 2000 — to a convention-center authority in another city: Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA). “The Savannah Trade Center has long been an essential resource for the State of Georgia, and it is important that we work towards ensuring its continued success,” Mark V. Smith, chair of the Georgia International Maritime and Trade Center Authority, which operates the SITCC, said in a statement. “GWCCA has the ability to take a high-performing asset to the next level while simultaneously enhancing the synergies between Savannah and Atlanta.” Even more interesting, SMG’s food-and-beverage arm, Savor, stayed on as the SITCC’s caterer. And Robert Coffey, who was the SITCC’s general manager under SMG, moved into the same position with GWCCA.

Why this job

“I was committed in the short term to do my part in managing the transition, because the Congress Center Authority had been so forthcoming that they wanted to maintain the senior management. I’m thinking that’s because they respected the job that was already being done. So I knew that I was going to be aboard for the transitional period anyway, if for no other reason than to make sure that people saw a familiar face at the wheel. It turned out the transition was managed so professionally and so well, it might not have happened. But I’m glad it did.”

The face of new management

“Like anything, your first questions are existential: Am I going to have a job? Am I still going to exist at the other end of this chasm? It’s a credit to the staffs at both ends of the pipeline that after a while the whole existential thing was gone and people were asking questions about work rules, like ‘How is my accrued vacation handled?’ and ‘Who’s my benefits coordinator?’ — that kind of thing. It was gratifying to see, and it wasn’t by accident.”


“In reality, not much changed at all. The entire staff cohort [of 29 full-time employees] from Savannah, from me all the way to the last parking-lot attendant, were adopted and consumed into the organization as a whole. So it just became a matter of basically signing everybody up, keeping everybody informed, and at the end of it, people who were proud to have been SMG employees for however long they had been — some of us for up to 17 or 18 years — were now proud to be Congress Center Authority employees, because they saw the same concern for getting their questions answered. They saw the same professionalism. They saw the same expectations and set of demands. Nothing changed; it was a different name on the paycheck, and that was a curiosity for about a month and now it’s like it never happened.”

Meeting the staff

“Actually, two employees [under SMG] took other opportunities, but they were going to anyway. One sales manager went back to her first love, which was the nonprofit industry, and is now a key part of United Way of Savannah; and an event coordinator went over to Gulfstream, which is one of the local entities. But apart from that, it’s all of us same chickens. I would say the mission is almost entirely still the same. The only things which have changed are some opportunities which have opened up both on the revenue-generation side and cost-saving side.”

Managing the transition

“You tell [employees] everything you know, when you know it, that’s going to be of benefit to them and that’s going to help them continue to focus on their jobs. In the end, that’s all they wanted to do. They wanted to be able to focus on their jobs, look at their schedule, plan for their time off, make sure that their boss knew what they needed and didn’t know — make sure that their boss knew that the vacuum cleaner had a screw loose or whatever. They just wanted stability and just the same stream of expectations, which we all want, which we all need. That’s what we viewed as our job — helping them not notice that bigger things were going on.”

Ask a planner

The Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) held its 2014 Annual Conference & Expo at the SITCC on July 20–23. “It’s really hard to sum up our experience at the SITCC, because there are so many good things to say it would be a really, really long statement,” said Joel Peacock, GAWP’s director of operations. “We were totally aware of the change in management at the SITCC, and while I’m sure the staff and management may have had a few hurdles to overcome, it was never seen or felt by the client. This year’s conference was described in three words: smooth as silk. The center was just as awesome this year as it has been in years past. I truly wish other centers would take note and make life easier for all of us.”