Earlier this year, the City of Santa Clara signed a contract with a company called Spectra, placing the Santa Clara Convention Center under new management. Spectra immediately put Kelly Carr into the role of General Manager, in a move that ended up being a homecoming of sorts.
“I love Santa Clara, it’s actually where my sister was born. I lived right there on the border of Los Gatos and San Jose. That’s where I grew up the first four years of my life and then we moved to Sacramento,” said Carr. “It is like a homecoming. It’s always been a dream of mine to live in the Bay Area and now I get the opportunity to do it.”
Before coming to Santa Clara, Carr was the general manager of facilities in Reno, Nevada and Syracuse, New York. The Santa Clara Convention Center will be the third facility he will manage.
“I’ve been in multiple locations and I’ve seen different municipalities and how they manage a center differently in different places,” said Carr. “Having the perspective of multiple destinations…I have a lot of experiences that I can draw from that if I don’t have the solution the first time around, we still have other things that we can try until we find what’s going to work best for this destination.”
In less than six months in Santa Clara, Carr has already managed to ingrain himself within the community. Carr has joined the Rotary Club and the advisory board for EOPS at Mission College.
“Being part of the community is an absolutely huge thing that we want to do, that we need to do and that we’re striving to do,” said Carr. “These kinds of things are important to immerse ourselves in the community, make ourselves accessible, let people know that we’re here, we’re here to help them; we’re here to be part of this team; we’re not here just taking.”
Carr is also working to help the City re-establish a Convention and Visitors Bureau and he has a seat on the Bureau’s Board of Directors.
“A Convention and Visitors Bureau is really the preeminent body that sells a destination,” said Carr. “It will be [the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s] job to sell the Center and the destination, not just the Center, but the overall destination for conventions and for tourism long-term.”
Carr doesn’t believe that sale will be hard.
“I think the location’s phenomenal. There are not too many convention centers that have an NFL stadium and a theme park right across the street from them,” said Carr. “Our neighborhood is a really nice neighborhood. When you look around our neighborhood, you’re not running into the things you might run into at convention centers in larger cities around the country.”
But it’s not all perfect, Carr says he’d like to see some small improvements inside like a new coat of paint and new carpet. He’d also like to update the Convention Center with chairs that have tablet arms and USB and power ports on the side.
While Spectra brought in Carr as General Manager of the Convention Center, the other employees stayed in their roles. Carr says, it was a blessing.
“I’m probably the luckiest general manager in venue management right now to walk into a team that I have here,” said Carr. “[They] care so much about what they do day in and day out and the fact that they’re willing to accept and try change, which is not always the case when you’re new and you come in. Everyone on the team is willing to try something new and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to find another way to do it that does work.”