When many Americans think of what they perceive as the great performing arts centers and arenas, their thoughts might wander to places such as New York or Los Angeles. Within the industry, though, even many Oklahomans might be surprised at just how well-regarded are Tulsa’s own BOK Center and Cox Business Center.
The BOK Center was awarded Facilities Magazine’s Prime Site Award in 2008. Venues Today Magazine named the site No. 4 in “Top Stop for Concerts in the USA in 2010.” The list goes on.
Tulsa’s significance in performers’ circles might be better known in the industry than the city itself. Ironically, the man who opened and has helmed the facilities for SMG (which manages both venues for the City of Tulsa) had never previously opened anything similar despite having facilities management experience of almost two decades. He’s John Bolton, the general manager of both the BOK Center and the Cox Business Center. He is also one of those award-winning leaders who have made the BOK so well-known nationwide. He’s attracted, welcomed and maintained the adoration of local and regional visitors and industry professionals since the BOK Center opened in September 2008.
“I had the ability when I first came here to convince people to move here and be part of this,” says Bolton. “I was able to cherry-pick people. We adopted the mantra that we wanted to be the best in the business, and we operated with that kind of mentality. I wanted us to take the chains off in all aspects.”
No effort was too great, no opportunity too out-of-the-league for Tulsa, no amount of public relations on behalf of the people of Tulsa was too much. Then came the sellout acts – from country superstars to Lady Gaga.
“Overall, I feel we’ve been pretty blessed to have been nominated as arena of the year, originally, and every year since,” says Bolton.
Bolton recognized early on that there were two types of customers: The front-door group of people, who wanted to support the facility, and the back-door audiences, who would come for major events. Both groups – and programming that appeals to both – needed tending and to be planned for in the long-term while making immediate experiences memorable. Engaging media, travel professionals and performance representatives, among others, has been key to the BOK’s lofty position, and while Bolton is quick to share credit with everyone from SMG to Tulsa residents, he clearly has a comprehensive vision that has come vividly to life.
Although creating original programming has already been a part of SMG Tulsa’s success, Bolton says he wants to increase the effort.
“Mostly, we need to continue what we’ve been doing and advocate with intensity and passion for Tulsa,” Bolton says. “Tulsa’s not high profile. There’s Houston and Dallas, and then what? Twenty options for one more show. We want to make sure we’re the option people look at.”