CFE Corner: Philip Jordan

Philip Jordan

Philip Jordan, CFE, is the division director for the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts.

Jody Lake: Phil, tell us about yourself.  How did you get into the facility management industry?

Phil Jordan: I formally entered facility management when I moved to Salt Lake to be part of the 2002 Winter Olympics. I was the venue general manager of Soldier Hollow, the competition venue for cross-country skiing and biathlon events in Midway, Utah. Managing an Olympic venue is an amazing and challenging experience, and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone!

My background was theatrical production management, which combines the operations of both front-of-house and back-of-house. I was fortunate to work as the director of production at Boston Ballet for 18 years, and then I ran away to join the circus with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. I helped manage the production period and led the first two years technical operations of O at the Bellagio. Now I lead an amazing venue management team at Salt Lake County’s Center for the Arts.

Jody Lake: Currently you manage three performing arts venues. Tell us about them and why is a fourth needed in downtown Salt Lake? How will it change the venue landscape for your arts groups?

Phil Jordan: Utah loves the performing arts and supports its professional artists with remarkable venues. Three of the states finest venues fall under the operations management and ownership of the Center for the Arts, and we will soon operate a fourth major facility.

The Capitol Theatre is a restored vaudeville and opera proscenium stage venue that just celebrated its 100-years-young anniversary. In its lifetime, the Capitol has seen three major renovations and is much beloved statewide. The 1,890-seat Capitol Theatre is the home of Ballet West, Utah Opera, and MagicSpace Entertainment/Broadway Across America.

Abravanel Hall is a 2,900-seat classic “shoebox” concert hall with remarkable acoustics and is the home of the Utah Symphony.

The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center has three performing venues under one roof: (1) the 500-seat Jeanne Wagner proscenium style theater; (2) the 190-seat Leona Wagner Black Box; and (3) the 70-seat Studio Theater. The Rose is home to Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theatre, Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, Plan-B Theater, Pygmalion Productions, and SB Dance. The Jeanne Wagner Theater is a key screening venue for the annual Sundance Film Festival.

The new Eccles Theater will open in fall 2016, and features a 2,500-seat proscenium theater and a 150-seat black box. The Eccles has a unique mid-block placement on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake, and it is designed to be a welcoming place for patrons and performers alike.

The Eccles is already generating a vibrant cultural buzz in the heart of the Intermountain West as an elegant and efficient new home for touring Broadway shows. The Eccles will offer new, year-round access for musicians, comedians, and mixed media performances currently unable to play our market.

As in many markets the addition of a new venue brings concerns and opportunities for all content providers. Our venue and event managers are prepared to engage both aspects as the phrase “high tide floats all ships” implies.

Jody Lake: With managing four performing arts venues, you must be the busiest man in show business. Where do get your motivation and how do you keep up?

Phil Jordan: I am hardly the busiest, but certainly one of the more fortunate with several new exciting opportunities ahead for me and my team. My motivation often comes from seeing the many happy faces of our audiences rushing in for curtain-up every show and the positive change we can influence in their lives through with diverse cultural experiences. My secret is mountain biking, skiing, and of course, coffee.

Jody Lake: In addition to managing all four venues, you have three partnering agencies on this new project. Has that been a unique challenge?

Phil Jordan: Challenging yes; unique I am not so certain. The owners of the new Eccles Theater are (a) Salt Lake City Corp., (b) Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, and (c) my employer, Salt Lake County. Managing a public facility construction project of this size is never simple, and there can be perceived divergent purposes and desired outcomes. I can say that on this project, once the major decisions are made, the public agency staff, together with our great project team (developer, architect, and construction) and an experienced operator can merge into alignment to produce a remarkable facility.

Jody Lake: What are some of your biggest challenges in designing, building, and very soon, operating this new facility?

Phil Jordan: First off, I should say that the owners and design team have embraced our participation as the operator from the beginning, which has been effective and deeply appreciated!

Phil Jordan building photo for CFE interviewThe site for this building is interesting and has proved to be a challenge for the design of the Eccles. It is set mid-block on a downtown street and is compressed between the major Main Street and a smaller side road, Regent Street, essentially giving the Eccles two front doors. This has challenged the design team as well as the operator from the beginning; however, the architects have worked within the site to create an intimate 2,500-seat hall. This may sound like a contradiction, but as we watch the walls go up and the seating platforms come in, we can really see how intimate the theater experience will be at the Eccles.

We have some acoustical challenges as our light-rail train system runs right along our front door. This has generated some impressive acoustic parameters and will require us to develop creative operational tactics for patron arrival, departure, and late seating.

Like many new facility projects, working through the overall project budget is always challenging, especially for unique facilities, such as theaters, that operate like a Swiss watch. Equipping a theater is not inexpensive, and helping our non-theater project partners understand the importance of acoustical treatments or why certain pieces of equipment cannot be compromised on has sometimes been a challenge. But, our owner and design team is very receptive and respectful when we bring up industry best practices, our own operations experience, and what is best for the mission of the building.

My IAVM network has been invaluable in this process—I have received documentation, advice, information, and even moral support—as I have reached out to them.

Jody Lake: Are there any new features to the new building that will affect the patron’s event experience?

Phil Jordan: The best features are the great new people-watching spaces spread throughout the venue. The grand Winter Garden Lobby with a top-to-bottom glass wall facing Main Street will provide amazing views from both inside and out. There is a great collection of exposed staircases, tiered walkways, interior and exterior balconies, and a large exterior terrace on the top balcony—all providing great places to hang out with friends and family while enjoying a variety of unique beverages and small plate offerings.

Jody Lake: Why did you choose to pursue the Certified Facilities Executive (CFE) designation? Do you feel the effort was worth it and why?

Phil Jordan: The Certified Facilities Executive celebrates a culmination of many aspects of being an overall professional venue manager. As I got to know so many fellow professionals within IAVM and learned the standards by which professionalism is measured, I saw that earning the CFE is a compelling accomplishment and a respected lifetime credential. It is absolutely worth the effort to measure yourself and be measured by your peers.

Jody Lake: With your years of experience in this profession, would you have any advice you’d like to share with those new to the industry? What do you wish someone would have told you?

Phil Jordan: Expect to have at least three careers. Follow your heart in your choices. Be prepared to trust and defend your principles.

Jody Lake: Now on a personal note, what does your perfect day look like?

Phil Jordan: Six hours on skis with my wife under bluebird skies followed by a quiet dinner.

Jody Lake: Do you have a favorite quote or motto that you try to live by?

Phil Jordan: “The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has been forgotten.”

Jody Lake: If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be?

Phil Jordan: Any white, sandy beach with deep, azure blue ocean.

Jody Lake: What is your favorite thing that you most enjoy about your career?

Phil Jordan: The people I get to work with and learn from.

Jody Lake: What celebrity would you like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?

Phil Jordan: There are two—Patrick Stewart and Maggie Smith—together if possible.

Jody Lake: What word describes you best?

Phil Jordan: Passionate. FM