Tim Savona moves full circle

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Tim Savona, who has been leading the charge at the Ford Idaho Center for the past three years, is leaving his post and moving on to the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theater, another Spectra-managed property in Sioux City, Iowa.

Savona, who has served as general manager of the Ford Idaho Center since October of 2015, said the post is one that requires a number of talents and a varied schedule. The center includes a concert arena, an outdoor amphitheater, a sports center, horse barns and a riding arena and a riding center. It sits on 120 acres and has two hotels “in our parking lot,” Savona said.

Savona said one of the dirtiest jobs there has been — literally — shoveling dirt at the Snake River Stampede or one of the many horse shows that take place throughout the year.

“The worst part about a dirt show is cleaning it up,” Savona said. “That dust ... you’ll clean it up and the next day, it’s back again. It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said, laughing.

Andrew Luther, who is taking over Savona’s position after he leaves, said Savona is not above working with the rest of the crew during cleanup at events. Both Luther and Savona described the team of employees at the Idaho Center as a family rather than a company — if one person is missing, it affects everyone else, Savona said.

Savona is proud of his track record in scheduling 170 to 190 shows at the center annually, with an economic impact to the community of an estimated $20 million to $40 million a year. As many as 23,000 can pack into the arena and amphitheater at one time.

In the last three years under Savona’s leadership, the city-owned Idaho Center consistently exceeded budget expectations, and just last year, the venue had its first profitable year since opening, operating more than $185,000 in the black for fiscal year 2018.

“During Tim’s time as general manager of the Ford Idaho Center, the city experienced a significant financial turnaround at the Ford Idaho Center,” Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said in an email statement. “He has done a tremendous job and built an excellent team.”

Although finances was one of the most challenging things about his job, Savona said he considers the biggest accomplishment for the venue was bringing the life back to the Idaho Center, and making it one of the first places people think of when they consider where to hold events in the Treasure Valley.

“We had two dark weekends back-to-back around Christmas (in 2017),” Savona said. “We are in the middle of the valley and everything is blowing up around us — Nampa, Kuna, Meridian. Our biggest competition is Taco Bell Arena, and they’re a first-class job. But we have the outdoor space — nobody can compete with us there. Idaho Botanical Garden can do 4,000; we can do 11,000. We try to book every single day.”

A home run hitter

Savona began hitting home runs as a minor league baseball player and spent several years chasing that dream in Cocoa Beach, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; and Grand Prairie, Texas. It was good “spring training” for what he does now, Savona said.

“In minor league baseball, everybody does everything — a lot,” he said.

He began his career with Spectra in Des Moines, Iowa, and then spent a stint in Loveland, Colorado. “I’ve been 10 years with the company,” Savona said. “I met my wife, Kara, in Iowa, and we had our son, Maxton, in Colorado. He was 3 weeks old when we moved here.”

Savona and his wife also have a daughter, Brynn, who was born here and who turned 1 last Thanksgiving.

“I spend a lot of time working and changing diapers these days,” Savona said.

He loves doing what he does. “My entire life and career is in the entertainment field,” he said. “I always thought it would be so cool to walk by a piano and just sit down and bust it out. I love music — all kinds of music.”

Savona’s personal favorite? “Seattle grunge,” he said. “Pearl Jam ... the Foo Fighters. We did have the Foo Fighters here in December 2017. I’m a big fan.”

A servant to the people

Savona said his job does not necessarily serve the talent that brings the masses through the gates.

“We’re here for the people. The bands have their own handlers — we give them what they need to perform,” he said, whether that means making sure the stage is big enough or if there is enough CO2 “to make the confetti shoot out. We’re trying to deliver the essentials as they need them. Every show is unique,” Savona said.

“We’re providing people an experience,” he said. From concessions to bathrooms, tickets to parking — and, of course the entertainment. “Every little thing about the customer experience takes months of planning, hundreds of people playing a role,” Savona said. “And then, what about cleaning that up? Whatever you can imagine, we have seen. We see it all and it’s all in a day’s work. There’s just nothing like going to see a live music act,” Savona said. “I could tell a good story about every show we’ve had over the last three years.

A little advice

Savona said the best advice he could give would be to listen.

“Listen to your employees, your patrons and your guests. Never think you’re the smartest person in the room,” he said. “You never know when a fresh set of eyeballs can see what you can’t. And you have to have teamwork and respect across the board. Sometimes we start at 6 or 7 in the morning for a concert. We leave at 1 in the morning. You have to have teamwork,” said Savona.

He said the biggest challenge “is probably public perception and awareness. We’re competing with other venues in the marketplace — how do we get them to look at us and not the competition? And helping people realize it’s more than just the money, it’s economic impact.” When the center hosts dayslong state tournaments, horse shows that last for a week at a time, when people come into the community for the entertainment and concerts the center offers, “the community benefits,” Savona said.

Advice he might give to his younger self? “Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. You lose track of what’s right in front of you,” Savona said. “Don’t be too busy cashing money and a title and not looking at the wealth of experience available to you. In my baseball days, I was in over my head at one point. I had to stop and slow down.”

The future’s got legs

Savona said he believes the center has not seen its potential yet. “I think it’s just scratching the surface. We do almost 200 events a year. About 30 concerts — 75 percent of what we do is not concerts. I am excited. We are positioned centrally in the valley, and the valley is growing at an impressive rate. All that growth is growing around us,” Savona said. “We’re here in the middle. With more events and more people to appeal to, so we can sell more tickets.” It’s all about “growth and location,” he said.

“We appreciate the Treasure Valley entrusting us to provide their good experiences, clients who’ve been putting up shows here for 20 years. I’m just lucky to be in the seat I’m in.”

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