DECC Interim Exec. Dir. Roger Reinert Wants To Innovate Venue’s Use During Pandemic

Bringing a local brewery's outside beer garden inside the DECC is just one idea Reinert is looking into.

DULUTH, Minn. — Roger Reinert — known in the world of politics in Duluth and St. Paul after stints as a city councilor, state senator and representative — is the new interim executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center – replacing Chelly Townsend whose contract was not renewed for reason not disclosed by the board.

Reinert is not new to the DECC after serving nearly a decade on the board.

“Scrappy is the right word. We’re going to be out there really thinking of how can we do innovative, creative things to bring earned revenue into the building,” Reinert said.

Reinert is stepping into one of the toughest financial and logistical times the DECC has ever faced. The venue hasn’t been open to the public during the pandemic and it is losing more than $230,000 in revenue every month from sidelined events like concerts.  But Reinert tells FOX 21’s Dan Hanger, he’s confident the DECC can find new, innovative business through early next year, and he’s looking for ideas the DECC never considered before.

“Our slogan right now is, ‘You have something you want to do, and we have the space to do it,’” Reinert said. “Our greatest asset is that 800,000 square feet of physical space combined with a super robust HVAC system. “We know that we can pull 90 percent fresh air in, so that helps people build confidence about coming back indoors to do things,” Reinert said.

Reinert is right now in discussions with businesses in Lincoln Park, like Bent Paddle, to move their indoor summer beer gardens inside the DECC to keep the social distance and a sense of normalcy going through the cold winter months.  And he’s even interested in church gatherings, childcare services, dance studios and indoor holiday markets.

“Those are different things than the DECC has traditional done, but those are the things to ensure the DECC is there after the pandemic,” Reinert said.

Most recently the Chamber hosted a Leadership Duluth gathering at the DECC for about 50 people.

“That might in other times go somewhere else, but take 50 times six feet of physical distancing — you quickly need a bigger space, and that’s where we come in,” Reinert explained.

DECC Board Chairwoman Karen Pionk says Reinert’s nine years on the board, his local and state political work and his recent deployment to Italy to lead a COVID-19 crisis action team as a U.S. Navy Reserve lieutenant commander made his interim hire an easy one.

“That helped give the board confidence because we have not only a venue to protect and make whole but now we have to manage a whole different way of doing business,” Pionk said.

A success story right now for the DECC is the William A. Irvin museum.  The socially distant self-guided tours there have brought in nearly $140,000 in revenue for in the past 21 weekend days of operation — serving more than 8,000 customers.

Reinert says the Irvin will likely stay open longer into the fall season to help balance the budget, but he’s really focused on filling up the DECC with ideas.

“Please know we’re going to look first at can we do it safely, and then does it make economic sense. But bring me your idea. Call me, email me — I would love to talk with you about that thing you want to do that you don’t think you can because you don’t have the physical space, and we’ll work with you to see if we can get to yes,” Reinert said.

Out of the 472 people normally employed at the DECC, 52 remain on the job during the pandemic — mostly part-timers who are working at the Irvin.

Discussions are also ongoing between the DECC and UMD about the college hockey season at Amsoil Arena. UMD Athletics has said the season most likely won’t start on time.

The DECC hopes to at least have a partial season.

Reinert would like to see the state allow more than the 250-people capacity rule in the 6-thousand seat arena, and he believes people can spread out safely.

UMD hockey is a crucial money maker for the DECC during the winter season.

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