Convention center GM says job 'my calling'
At 12 years old, John Page pretty much knew what he wanted to do for a living.
After catching a Harlem Globetrotters' game at Hara Arena in Dayton, he decided to pursue a career in facilities management.
For nearly 30 years, Page chased his childhood ambition, at first pestering Joe Eaglowski, then general manager of Hara Arena, for a job. Eaglowski, who repeatedly turned Page down because of his age, eventually relented and made the youngster a "go-fer" at 14.
"I did every odd job in the facility," said Page, a native of Dayton. "This was kind of my calling."
As of last week, Page was named general manager of Greater Columbus Convention Center by SMG and the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority.
The facility is owned by the facilities authority and managed by SMG, which is based in West Conshohocken, Pa.
At 1.7 million square feet, it is the largest convention center in Ohio, hosting 300 events a year and drawing 2.5 million people annually.
Page said his objective is to book 35 to 40 citywide conventions, such as the Arnold Classic, per year. The convention center now hosts about 25 such events a year. He said his ultimate goal is to book the "super bowl" of conventions -- a national political convention.
In the near future, the facility will expand on its No. 1 source of revenue: parking. The convention center will build a multi-level garage to increase parking on the north side of center from 192 to 786 spaces.
Construction on the project, which will cost between $16 million and $20 million, is expected to begin in April.
In 2012, parking revenue was more than $3.7 million, said Jennifer Davis, marketing and communications director for the convention center.
An expanded garage on Vine Street, largely serving employees at Nationwide Insurance and the new Hilton hotel, has resulted in increased parking revenue this year over the same period in 2012, Davis said.
The convention center is familiar turf for Page, now 40. After receiving a master's degree in sports management in 2008, Page was hired by the facility.
From 1998-2003, he held a variety of positions -- including project coordinator, projects manager and senior operations manager -- for the convention center.
He then moved to Savannah, Ga., when he was named director of operations of the 330,000-square-foot Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, another SMG-managed facility.
"When I left to go to Savannah, I never saw myself coming back to Columbus," he said.
But he noticed some positive changes, such as the region's growth and good economic climate.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to do this again," he said.
Page, of Lewis Center, is now in charge of an $8 million annual operating budget, an eight-person management team and more than 100 full-time and part-time employees.
He said his management style is simple.
"The key part of management is to hire good employees and let them do their job," he said.