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Go east, young man: Star Center manager heads to Pennsylvania

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After nearly five years as general manager for Global Spectrum’s Santa Ana Star Center, Gunnar Fox is leaving for whiter pastures.

“Be sure to buy a snow shovel,” Fox was told last week at a Rio Rancho Sports Advisory Council meeting, of which Fox has been a member.

“One of my first purchases is going to be a snow blower,” replied Fox, sad on one hand to be leaving the climate of the Southwest but happy to be taking his wife, Moira, and their two daughters back East. His last day at the Star Center was Friday.

Fox will be the general manager for Global Spectrum’s new PPL Center in Allentown, Pa., not far from his New Jersey hometown.

Looking back

“I’ve come full-circle,” Fox said of the transfer.

Gunnar Fox, former Santa Ana Star Center manager, is moving to Pennsylvania, near his New Jersey hometown, to run a Global Spectrum center there. His last day was Friday. (Rio Rancho Observer—GARY HERRON photo)

Gunnar Fox, former Santa Ana Star Center manager, is moving to Pennsylvania, near his New Jersey hometown, to run a Global Spectrum center there. His last day was Friday. (Rio Rancho Observer—GARY HERRON photo)

His first job, between his junior and seniors years at Ithaca College, was in 2005 as an intern for the Philadelphia Phantoms, an affiliate of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers (Fox is a diehard Flyers fan). The Phantoms, who will move to Allentown next season from their current home in Glens Falls, N.Y., were established in 1996 and played their first 13 seasons in the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Global Spectrum liked Fox enough to hire him and have him run the Wells Fargo Center. It then sent him to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where he helped open the EnCana Events Centre. He remained there until he was transferred to Rio Rancho, when Global Spectrum was taking over for Global Entertainment (the two are not related in any manner) in April 2009.

“I’ve been here almost exactly five years,” Fox noted, wanting it made clear, “Global Spectrum is not leaving.”

Tip of the hat

Rick Hontz, regional vice president of Global Spectrum, said he’s been close to Rio Rancho since the “request for proposals” led to Global Spectrum getting the contact to manage the building for the city.

“Gunnar’s done a tremendous job for our company and the citizens of Rio Rancho,” Hontz said. “He spent countless hours trying to put this city on the map — it’s because of him, Gunnar really being a cheerleader for Rio Rancho and the building — and why he was able to land those events for the building.

“He has a tremendous work ethic.”

Bittersweet

Still, “This (transfer) is what I have wanted for a long time,” Fox said, namely the ability to move East and get back to his extended family.

It’s a bittersweet departure for Fox, honored last year as one of Albuquerque Business First’s top “Thirty Under 30″ movers and shakers and a former board member for the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce.

He likes community involvement, and made sure Star Center employees helped on the Big Brothers Big Sisters Park in North Hills.

Thus, no one should be surprised to hear that among Fox’s highlights from his years in the City of Vision were “being involved in the community and starting to change the perception of the building … that it’s a great fan experience.”

One of his challenges when he arrived on the scene — shortly after the original anchor tenant, the New Mexico Scorpions, had completed their third and final season of existence — was changing the depiction of the Star Center from a negative to a positive.

“We do have a lot of diverse events,” he said. Actually, there are too many to count, but among the more-prominent are concerts, monster trucks and motocross events, D-League basketball and ice hockey games, boxing and MMA cards, New Mexico Activities Association state events, the annual Children’s Water Festivals and five schools’ graduation ceremonies.

“One of the things we strive for: diverse events,” Fox said.

His favorite event? “Walking with Dinosaurs, No. 1, without a doubt,” he said. “It was an unbelievable show — and the numbers were there.”

Not only did he enjoy it, but so did thousands — and the Star Center grossed a record $1.1 million.

Ranking second and third on Fox’s faves are the sold-out Carrie Underwood concert and any one of the three Cirque du Soleil performances.

“Alan Jackson put on a great show,” Fox added, and he’s a bit dismayed he’ll miss ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s third appearance, slated for Saturday.

Going forward

Although his successor has yet to be named, Fox said he expects a “really smooth transition.

“(This will be) a great experience I can look back on. I grew a lot in my professional career,” he said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had here — the relationships and the partners.

“The community welcomed me when I came and I hope they do that for the next person,” he said.

Fox and his next Global Spectrum staff will handle, upon opening, the day-to-day management of the arena, including booking, scheduling, marketing, maintenance, contracted services, staffing and other operations.

“We’ll bring in first-class entertainment and watch people enjoy themselves,” he said. “That’s what I like. I love my job.”

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