Gawronski approved for job in Iowa

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Larry Gawronski, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention Center and Auditorium, will leave his post at the end of the year to accept a similar position managing the Bridge View Center in Ottumwa, Iowa.

The Ottumwa City Council unanimously approved his appointment Tuesday night. Gawronski, 55, said he will take over there Jan. 3.

“We are both sad that we will not be here to be a part of Vicksburg’s continued growth,” said Gawronski, referring also to his wife, Diane, “but we look forward to serving the city of Ottumwa, and we expect to become entrenched there and weave ourselves into the fabric of the community.”

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Bridge View is a 92,000-square-foot events center on the banks of the Des Moines River, about 85 miles southeast of the capital city. The five-year-old center has a 655-seat theater, multiple meeting rooms and a multipurpose exposition hall. The VCC is 14 years old and encompasses 50,000 square feet, Gawronski said, while floor space at the smaller, 1,100-seat auditorium, which is 60 years old, is negligible.

VenuWorks, the Ames, Iowa-based facilities management company that has overseen VCC operations since 2001, took over management of Bridge View Tuesday.

“Larry has served VCC and VenuWorks well over the past 12 years,” said company president Steve Peters. “He is leaving the venues in fantastic shape, as we have just reported year-end figures showing the lowest net operating deficit in the history of the convention center.”

The VCC reported a $129,900 operating deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, about half what had been projected. The combined operating deficit for the convention center and auditorium was $294,416, also about half of what had been projected, Gawronski reported to the center’s advisory board Sept. 30.

“What he brought to Vicksburg, he will bring to Ottumwa,” Peters said in a telephone interview. “And that’s enthusiasm, energy and imagination. He just makes things happen. He creates opportunities for events to happen, and he’s very creative in his marketing.”

Gawronski said the decision to leave the VCC — and the city — was a difficult one to make.

“It was our desire to have retired here in Vicksburg,” he said of himself and his wife. “We both love Vicksburg and have given our all personally and professionally to this community, which embraced us.”

The Gawronskis first moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1990s. Larry Gawronski was involved with the design and construction of the $13 million Vicksburg Convention Center and was the facility’s first general manager. He left in 1997 to run a center in Nebraska, returning to manage the VCC in 2001.

“He’s had opportunities to move throughout the years,” said Diane Gawronski, 58, the former vice president of marketing at River Region Medical Center. “We never really entertained the idea. But sometimes somebody can change your career plans — which is what happened to me.”

In early October, Diane Gawronski was fired after 10 years with the hospital. About the same time, the city of Ottumwa awarded VenuWorks the contract to manage Bridge View, and the company launched a search for an executive director. Peters asked Larry Gawronski to consider being a candidate.

Gawronski said he submitted a resume, was interviewed and met with Ottumwa officials, just as other applicants did.

The Gawronskis have been deeply involved with church, civic and community organizations while in Vicksburg. Both have volunteered with United Way of Central Mississippi, and are members of Rotary International — Larry Gawronski is a past president — and St. Paul Catholic Church, where he is a cantor and both sing in the choir.

Larry Gawronski has also acted in and directed Vicksburg Theatre Guild productions. Diane Gawronski served two consecutive terms as president of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce; was a co-founder and first president of the Vicksburg Association of Marketing Professionals; and has served six years as a commissioner of the NRoute Transit Board.

Ottumwa City Manager Joe Helfenberger said city officials were impressed by Larry Gawronski’s commitment to Vicksburg. “His community involvement points to his success, and I expect that to continue here in Ottumwa,” said Helfenberger in a prepared statement. “Larry also received the unanimous support of the (Bridge View advisory board) earlier today at their monthly meeting.”

Peters said VenuWorks immediately will begin a search for Gawronski’s replacement here, with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen having final approval.

“We hope a new executive director will start right after the first of the year,” Peters said. “But the staff there are terrific and will make sure nothing falls through the cracks. And you don’t really lose Larry — he’s still with VenuWorks and is just a phone call away.”

VenuWorks, formed in 1996 as Compass Facility Management, manages 40 venues in cities across the country, as well as conducting feasibility studies, operations audits and consulting work for clients with existing and prospective public assembly facilities.