Spokane Journal of Business

Curran sees PFD as part of Spokane renaissance

New CEO has front-row seat to city’s growth

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-—Kevin Blocker
Stephanie Curran has worked for the Spokane Public Facilities District in various capacities for 12 years. Most recently, she was general manager of the Spokane Convention Center.

From Stephanie Curran’s ground-level administrative office on the south side of Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the new CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District has an expansive view of the downtown construction activity that starts right across the street.

And, from her vantage point, she sees the PFD as being in an ideal position to help facilitate the city’s economic growth.

“Our mission is to recruit visitor spending here. To get them here for conventions, sporting events, concerts, and then … they leave, and they’re not a burden on services,” she says.

Curran replaces former CEO Kevin Twohig who retired effective Feb. 1, after 16 years at the helm.

A crane is now in place across the street on the property that was once home to the former Wonder Bread bakery building at 821 W. Mallon, which is being expanded and converted into office space and a food market in the course of a $12 million project, which is being called the Wonder Adaptive Reuse project.

Farther south, another crane stands over a $20 million CSO tank installation project on Spokane Falls Boulevard near City Hall.

Curran says she hopes to see even more cranes in the future, placed east of the arena, as the five-member PFD board, city officials, and Spokane Public Schools representatives give consideration to the possibility of building a 6,000- to 7,000-seat, outdoor athletic stadium that would be used as a possible replacement to the aging Joe Albi Stadium, at 4918 W. Wellesley in North Spokane.

She’s also excited about the prospect of intensified discussions between Spokane County Commissioners, the city of Spokane, PFD board, and Spokane Sports Commission regarding construction of a 93,000-square foot Sportsplex athletic complex that would be placed south of the possible stadium at the North Bank site above downtown.

The PFD, which currently operates the arena, Spokane Convention Center, and the INB Performing Arts Center, most likely would be responsible for operating any new sports facilities near the arena, says Curran.

“It’s exciting to think how this area could be a real sports hub,” Curran says. “It would be daunting, but it would be a great opportunity.”

The responsibility of the proposed projects wouldn’t be exclusively on the shoulders of the PFD, though.

“These projects have to be a collaborative effort because not one of us could do it on our own,” she says of the funding, construction, and future operations of the envisioned facilities.

Curran, who completed her master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in 2008, says she was in Florence, Italy, for a period as part of the program.

“That was really where the heart of the Renaissance period took place—the rise in arts and culture,” she says. “I see that that’s what’s going on here. It’s a great time to be in Spokane.”

Before taking over as CEO, Curran spent six years as the general manager of the convention center. Before that, she worked as the arena’s event manager for six years.

Despite the region’s continued growth, which is buoyed by a current strong economy, across the country, Spokane is still largely unrecognized, in Curran’s opinion.

Through the years, Curran has worked closely with the tourism-promotion organization Visit Spokane in the effort to recruit conventions here.

“One of the struggles we have is recognition,” Curran says. “We make the short list for a lot of conventions, but we often lose out to places where there’s just name-brand recognition.”

For her part, as CEO, Curran says that is something that she will work to combat in the immediate future.

“I like to say we’re hip without the hassle. We have the amenities of a big city in a cost-effective environment minus the traffic,” she says.

Curran credits the PFD board and Twohig for creating a culture that involves forward thinking and looking at all options available in an effort to be successful.

“It’s a five-member board that’s open to growth and always looking at ways to take the PFD to the next level,” she says.

Though final figures for 2017 have yet to be tallied, in 2016, the arena hosted 563 total events with nearly 654,000 guests attending. The facility generated a net operating income of $1.5 million, the PFD says.

The INB Performing Arts Center hosted 152,245 guests at 112 events and generated $752,340 in net operating income. And the convention center hosted 710 events and posted a net operating loss of $123,900, according to the PFD’s 2016 annual report.

The Spokane PFD has close to 50 employees. For large-scale events, it hires private contractors for custodial workers and stage hands, among several others positions, she says.

In her capacity as CEO, Curran says she will make a concerted effort to ensure PFD employees feel fulfilled in their job duties.

“I’ve been more a manager in previous jobs where it’s more common to spend time telling people what they have to do,” she says. “This job is really removed from that, and I have a chance to find ways to keep people growing.”

Curran, 50, grew up in Southern California and graduated from high school there. She long aspired to attend the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, but at a college recruiting event her senior year, she had her first-ever interaction with Gonzaga.

“I walked into this empty room in my high school where there was a small, little priest. I don’t remember his name, but he described this little idyllic town and Bing Crosby, and I was mesmerized,” she says.

Without making a visit to Spokane, she enrolled at Gonzaga and eventually completed her undergraduate degree in public relations with a minor in journalism.

She says she initially didn’t envision spending the rest of her working career here.

“At that time, once you graduated, you left Spokane. Nobody stayed,” she says.

But one job opportunity continued to lead to more here as she continued to turn down job offers and other opportunities to apply for work in her field in major cities, she says.

“I feel like this was the job I was meant for, and what’s great is that I was able to stay in Spokane for it,” she says.

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