Gwinnett Center still strong through the tough economy

DULUTH -- In 2005, the Arena at Gwinnett Center celebrated the milestone of welcoming its 1 millionth patron. Fast-forward to 2012: The venue has topped 7 million visitors with more added with each event. The building hosts more than 815,000 people a year.

"I think there's lots of reasons why people keep coming," General Manager Joseph L. Dennis Jr. said. "I think it starts with the free parking and that we create a safe environment for our patrons to come in, no matter if it's for a concert or hockey game. Our philosophy since day one has been customer service."

Since the Great Recession, the Gwinnett Center has continued to keep its doors open for the masses, which Dennis believes can be credited to the staff's problem solving skills.

"Financially, we're fine, but felt it in the (economic) downturn," he said. "There weren't as many projects on the road and things for the facility. We tried to get diversified by reaching out to religious-based organizations and other groups. If concerts weren't touring, we looked for other things."

Dennis also believes that the center's "grass roots" approach to work keeps performers and acts coming back to the venue instead of traveling to other facilities. This year alone, the arena has hosted George Strait with Martina McBride, Blake Shelton, Tool and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Fully Charged show.

"We try to make the venue open to anyone who wants to use it. If we don't think their show won't work here, we will tell them and we get those calls -- its tough to turn down business," he said. "It's paid off because people trust us. We've developed the relationships. We don't nickel and dime our folks -- we're here for the long run, not just make a quick buck."

In addition to attracting local and national acts, the center wants patrons -- of course -- to visit the facilities, too. Dennis and his team depend on each other to create a friendly, safe, clean environment for the guests.

"Nothing magic about it -- we like to under promise and over deliver," he said. "We're responsible for when they leave their home to get here until they get back home to have a great experience. I'm so blessed with the customer service type of individuals (that work here)."

The staff prides itself in being detail-oriented to keep a presentable campus for visitors 365 days a year.

"I personally walk this complex multiple times most days. I pick up trash if I see it; I make notes of any issues of all. That's how all of us are," Dennis said of his staff. "We constantly maintain the facility making it look fresh and new."

As Gwinnett continues to grow, the center plans to grow along with it.

"We do have a master plan for the whole campus that we created three or four years ago," Dennis said. "We want to build a hotel for Convention Center and possibly expand the Convention Center. We also want to expand or renovate the (performing arts) theater because of some issues with it. We're constantly trying to stay five years out to keep up."

This story is part of the 2012 annual Progress edition, "Moving Gwinnett Toward One Million." To see the complete online edition, click HERE.