Home 2016 June
Daily News

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. and First Choice Bank announced Wednesday that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which First Choice Bank will merge into Berkshire Bank and its subsidiary, First Choice Loan Services Inc., will become a subsidiary of Berkshire Bank in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $111.7 million.

Berkshire’s total assets will increase to $8.9 billion including the $1.1 billion in acquired First Choice assets.  This market-expanding merger provides entry into attractive markets with strong demographics, and includes six branches near Princeton, N.J., and two in the greater Philadelphia, Pa. area. First Choice reported $436 million in net loans (excluding loans held for sale) and $906 million in deposits as of March 31, 2016.

First Choice Bank is the second largest community bank by deposit market share in Mercer County, New Jersey, an area with per capita income well above national and regional averages. First Choice Loan Services is a leading residential retail and consumer direct mortgage originator serving borrowers across the United States. Total mortgage production in 2015 was $2.5 billion.

Berkshire will have a pro forma market cap of approximately $905 million and 101 branches, serving customers and communities across the Northeast.

“We’re pleased to welcome First Choice customers and employees to America’s Most Exciting Bank®,” said Michael P. Daly, Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire. “This partnership builds on Berkshire’s commitment to create a strong regional platform for serving our customers, while diversifying our revenue streams, improving profitability and increasing shareholder value.  The First Choice franchise builds on markets where we presently manage commercial relationships, and adds a well-positioned deposit base, a best in class home lending operation and enthusiastic new teams that complement our current culture. After integration, the transaction is expected to be accretive to Berkshire’s earnings per share, return on equity and return on assets, liquidity and capital. We have a strong track record of execution and our collective teams are positioned to complete this integration flawlessly.”

Martin Tuchman, First Choice’s Chairman of the Board, commented, “We’re pleased to announce this combination with Berkshire and believe our customers, community and employees will benefit greatly from this transaction. We believe Berkshire fits both the culture of our bank and our expanding mortgage operation. Their product suite and commitment to service will enable the combined company to better compete in this growing marketplace. With Berkshire’s attractive stock, I’m pleased to be a shareholder going forward, and our bank employees and mortgage lending group look forward to joining the Berkshire team.”

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Brian Risler, Farmington Bank’s assistant vice president and mortgage sales manager for the Western Mass. region, has been named 2016 Affiliate of the Year by the Realtor Association of Pioneer Valley (RAPV).

The announcement was made during the association’s recent annual awards banquet on June 8. The affiliate of the year is the highest form of recognition given by the RAPV to an affiliate member who has shown outstanding service and devotion to the organization during the past 17 months in the areas of affiliate-related association activity, community service and business activity.

Risler has served in many capacities for the RAPV, including co-chair of its Education Fair & Trade Show, which was the association’s largest and most heavily attended event of the year. Risler also served on the Government Affairs Committee of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR), advocating for private property rights and promoting MAR’s legislative agenda and positions on key issues.

As affiliate of the year, Risler was also recognized for his involvement in the community. For instance, he has been a guest speaker for HAP Housing, the largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing in Western Massachusetts, educating first-time homebuyers on the fundamentals of residential financing and how best to advocate for themselves as consumers.

At Farmington Bank, Risler has more than 16 years of experience in residential mortgage banking in Massachusetts. Risler received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration/Finance from Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton recently acquired a new state-of-the-art audio system, designed and installed by Jason Raboin.

The hall had become increasingly busy with a variety of programming, from rock concerts to theatrical productions, literary arts to dance, youth programs to indie music, which would all benefit from an enhanced system, said a spokesperson for the Academy.

Two challenges were identified for the project: First, the speakers needed to provide consistent coverage throughout the entire theater without interfering with sightlines to the stage opening, or distracting from the architectural beauty of the 125-year old opera house; and secondly, the limited rigging options within the historic performing arts center demanded compact, lightweight loudspeakers as part of a visually unobtrusive sound system.

The installation centered around four Fulcrum Acoustic CX1595 speakers powered by Ashly nXp amplifiers. The speaker’s lightweight, compact, visually unobtrusive design provides consistent coverage throughout the entire theater without interfering with sightlines to the stage opening, or distracting from the architectural beauty of the 125-year old opera house.

Two compact, portable Fulcrum Acoustic Sub215 subwoofers provided concert-level low frequency for the historic theater while minimizing visual intrusion.

As a touring sound engineer (Joan Baez, Modest Mouse, Lake Street Dive), Raboin who had worked on a variety of audio systems in the field, said “I have not heard anything that sounds better than Fulcrum Acoustics speakers. When you combine their fidelity with their lightweight and compact size, they really were the only choice for this installation. It was hard to believe that such a compact system would be able to cover the venue at the desired SPL, but the system exceeded our expectations and the theater’s design goals.”

At mix position, a Yamaha Ql1 mixing console was chosen for its compact footprint as well as its ability to handle the wide variety of programming in the theater.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Following a hearing held June 28, and upon the recommendation of Licensing Director Attorney Alesia Days, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, who holds statutory authority over entertainment licenses, has issued severe sanctions against Show Bar.

The establishment received a suspension for a period of 60 days, with 15 days to serve from July 1-15, 2016. The balance of 45 days will be held in abeyance for one year. If there are additional violations committed by Show Bar during the period of abeyance, the 45 days would be served in addition to any penalty imposed as a result of any new violation.

In addition to the suspension, Sarno has ordered that the licensee is required to submit an application for approval for a new manager of record and security plan to the License Commission prior to reopening on July 16. Upon Show Bar reopening on July 16, Sarno further imposed a rollback of hours to closure at 1 a.m., as opposed to its regular closing time of 2 a.m., for a period of 30 days.

The adult entertainment club, located at 240 Chestnut Street in Springfield, was found in violation of various charges resulting from an assault that occurred on March 18.  Show Bar is also facing charges relating to a pending complaint involving the club’s hiring of an underage dancer. That matter is being reviewed by state and local Law Enforcement agencies and a hearing will be held once such a review is complete.

The License Commission will hold a special hearing regarding Show Bar today (June 30) at 4:30 p.m. in Room 220 at City Hall.

Daily News

Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr., honored by BusinessWest as one of its Difference Makers for 2016, issued a statement to the press Tuesday announcing that he was exploring the possibility of staring a foundation to continue his life’s work.

“Like most anyone else facing retirement, I find myself contemplating what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “I know that despite being in my mid-70s, I still have great intensity and energy. The fire still burns in me for my life’s work of 42 years — assuring that offenders have the best possible likelihood of re-entering the community as law-abiding, productive, positive citizens, ‘giving to,’ rather than ‘taking from’ the lives of others. That life’s work would be hard for me to completely walk away from when I still feel vital and useful and passionate about its value to others.

“One of the scenarios that I’ve contemplated,” he continued, “is to continue that life’s calling in a new framework is to create a local foundation, with myself as its unpaid chief administrator, to enhance our community’s effort to successfully re-enter offenders.”

Ashe said he’s far from having an exact blueprint regarding specific ways that such a non-profit might help, and he’s not yet completely certain that starting and heading-up such a philanthropic foundation is where he can be of best service in retirement. But he did say it’s an idea worth exploring.

“Although I am not far enough along to have detailed the specifics of the structures of such a possible foundation, I would want any such foundation to be marked by simplicity and integrity.,” he explained. “One model that I would use is the local charity Griffin’s Friends, which was founded to bring moments of joy to courageous kids at Baystate Medical Center, and which minimizes administrative costs and maximizes direct service to those it seeks to help.”

Ashe said one reason he’s thinking aloud and publicly about this is to put the word out to others who might be likewise interested in founding such a new non-profit to let him know of their interest in helping to build what could be “an inspired addition to the edifice that we’ve labored so tirelessly to build during these last 42 years – a community corrections system driven by a vision of social justice, integrity and public safety.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Tejas Gandhi, the former chief administrative officer at Navicent Health in Macon, Ga. — where he led the organization through an era of positive change and restructuring, contributing greatly to their financial recovery — has been named chief operating officer at Baystate Medical Center.

His appointment became effective June 13.

Gandhi fills a position left vacant by Nancy Shendell-Falik, RN, MA, who for two years served in the dual position at Baystate Health as chief operating officer and senior vice president/chief nursing officer for Baystate Medical Center, prior to being named president of Baystate Medical Center and senior vice president of Hospital Operations for Baystate Health in October 2015.

“Dr. Gandhi is a true change agent, whose culture building skills and talents in the area of continuous process improvements will be an asset in leading Baystate Medical Center and supporting Baystate 2020, our health system’s strategic plan,” said Shendell-Falik. “His adherence to core values and accountability in all actions, as well as his advocacy of transparency, especially in his own interactions, will make him a key member of the Baystate Health family,”

Gandhi, with 15 years of professional experience in health care administration, comes to his new position from a hospital similar to Baystate Medical Center — a 637-bed teaching hospital affiliated with Mercer University School of Medicine, Level I Trauma Center, and three-time Magnet Designated hospital for nursing excellence nationwide.

Prior to joining Navicent Health in 2013, Gandhi was employed by Virtua Health in Marlton, N.J., the largest comprehensive health care system in Southern New Jersey, where he helped change the overall culture to one of continuous process improvement, resulting in cost savings and key improvements for the organization. During his 10 years there, Gandhi oversaw the process-driven planning process for a new $618 million replacement hospital and regional ambulatory center, also leading successful initiatives to improve clinical safety and quality outcomes, as well as patient satisfaction and employee engagement.

Gandhi attended the University of Bombay, India, where he received his bachelor of science degree in Chemical Engineering. He later received a master of science in Industrial Engineering from State University of New York at Binghamton and a doctorate in Health Administration and Leadership from Medical University of South Carolina.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDSpringfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA) Director Christopher Moskal announced Tuesday that required design modifications will delay the opening of a new boarding platform at Springfield Union Station.

He said progress at the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center project continues to advance and he “expects that the Union Station terminal project itself will open on schedule in January 2017, albeit without the new boarding platform in operation.” He said that “includes the terminal building, the bus terminal, the parking garage and the passenger tunnel up to the current Amtrak lobby on Lyman Street.”

As a separate component of the overall project, MassDOT is committed to delivering a new boarding platform for Amtrak trains. This high-level platform, which will provide “level-entry boarding” for Amtrak passengers, was scheduled to be in operation when Union Station opened.

However, in reviewing the new platform’s design, Amtrak indicated that a waiver of two Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) design requirements would be needed. This waiver relating to the width of the new platform was necessitated by the unique configuration of the existing Union Station tracks. The SRA submitted the waiver request on March 10, 2016.

After discussions between FRA and MassDOT, FRA issued a letter on May 23, 2016, requiring full compliance with its design regulations. This FRA decision requires major modifications to the initial design of both the platform and the underground passenger tunnel. Accordingly, the project’s architect has been directed to prepare necessary changes to the project’s plans and specifications. The project team is currently working to finalize a revised schedule and budget.

Moskal indicated that MassDOT remains committed to funding related design and construction costs.

In the interim, he indicated that Amtrak passengers will access trains from the new terminal by passing through the renovated portion of the tunnel into the current Amtrak lobby and using the existing boarding platform on the Lyman Street side as they do today.

After the new boarding platform is completed, the Lyman Street end of the tunnel — the current Amtrak lobby — will be renovated and will reopen. This will result in a fully renovated passenger tunnel between the terminal and Lyman Street.

Cover Story

A New Era

Nate Costa

Nate Costa

After a two-month hiatus, professional hockey is back in Springfield, with a franchise recently named the Thunderbirds. Its executive vice president and large ownership group are confident this team can get over the attendance hump that has plagued previous franchises in the City of Homes, and say this confidence stems from an intense focus on sales coupled with the commitment — and connections — of the 26 owners.

Nate Costa had what most people would consider an attractive position with the American Hockey League — with the operative word being had.

As a member of the AHL’s Team Business Services Department, Costa had a broad job description, but essentially he worked with all 30 of the league’s teams to improve revenues and attendance and deploy best practices to help their organizations run more efficiently and profitably. It was a job that took him across the country, to cities ranging from San Diego to Grand Rapids, Mich., to Utica, N.Y., and provided a host of learning opportunities.

But while Costa, a Springfield native and Cathedral High School graduate, enjoyed that work, he coveted another title and a much different set of job responsibilities.

“I really wanted to run a franchise, and I entered the job with the AHL with that goal in mind,” he told BusinessWest, adding that achieving this career ambition would provide him with an intriguing opportunity to put to work many of the lessons learned while working with and for teams like the Hershey Bears, Syracuse Crunch, Utica Comets, and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

And now, thanks to the dramatic turn of events that brought the Portland (Maine) Pirates franchise to Springfield this spring, he’ll get that chance. Indeed, Costa was recently named executive vice president of the team, recently renamed the Thunderbirds.

It’s been a whirlwind month or so for Costa; he got married just a few weeks ago, and officially started his new job at the same time. He doesn’t have an office yet — a new lease with the MassMutual Center doesn’t begin until July — or even business cards. Meanwhile, most of his time, and that of the new ownership group, has been spent on matters of business, such as franchise agreements, negotiating with the MassMutual Center, and choosing a team name, logo, and colors.

But Costa told BusinessWest that the real work of running this franchise and doing what the previous ownership group could not — move the team out of last place, at least when it comes to attendance — is underway.

When queried about how he intends to improve the numbers at the gate as well as the overall profitability of Springfield’s AHL franchise — a question posed repeatedly and in several different ways — he said, in essence, that it comes down to one word: selling.

He would elaborate, of course, touching on both what is to be sold and, especially, how and to whom.

As for the former, he said the product is much more than hockey, although that’s obviously a big part of it. He preferred to say that the team would be selling “an experience” that could be enjoyed by all members of the family.

TbirdsPrimary(Color)As for the latter, he said the selling would take on a far more aggressive tone than it has historically, with a specific focus on season tickets and group sales, strategic targets that have yielded success for other franchises, as we’ll see later.

Dennis Murphy, owner of the Ventry Group and a member of the ownership group, summed things up this way:

“To compare what’s happened in the past to what this situation looks like would be to compare a shovel to a bulldozer,” he explained. “This is the most powerful sales force ever assembled in any part of Western Mass., bar none.”

Overall, Costa said the Thunderbirds won’t really do anything the previous franchise didn’t do — it will just do it better and more aggressively, with the goal of creating more and stronger connections between the team and the community.

And it will also do it with the backing of 26 local owners, all of whom are committed to hockey, this team, and selling it (there’s that word again), said Paul Picknelly, president of Picknelly Enterprises, who is among that group.

“We now have 26 owners,” he noted, saying that number slowly and with added emphasis to convey strength in numbers. “That, in itself, is a huge positive change in the way we sell hockey across the region.”

Picknelly said the ownership group is diverse — from Tony Caputo, owner of the Red Rose Group, to Peter Martins and Derek Slema, who both own of a number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises across the region — and they will use these businesses, and their skill sets, to help bring visibility to the team and fans to the MassMutual Center.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Costa and others about the Thunderbirds franchise and how the new ownership group and leadership team plan to take hockey to new heights in Springfield.

Dropping the Puck

Looking ahead, Costa noted, while the AHL’s 2016-17 schedule is not yet official, he knows the Thunderbirds, the affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, will start the campaign on the road.

That’s good in many respects, he said, because it will give the team another week to get ready for opening night (Oct. 22) — seven days that will certainly be needed.

Indeed, the new ownership group and leadership team will be compressing a process that usually begins the day after the season ends, and actually long before that — Costa said roughly 80% of ticket packages for the ‘next’ season are sold while a team is still playing games — into a much shorter time frame.

But that’s just one more element to an already imposing and multi-faceted challenge, one the energetic 33-year-old certainly embraces.

Costa has taken an interesting path to this point in his career. A journalism major at Northeastern, he found employment opportunities in that field few and far between. While searching for one in the fall of 2006, he instead decided to join a classmate at Cathedral who had recently become one of the first salespeople hired by the new AHL franchise in San Antonio, owned by that city’s hugely successful NBA franchise, the Spurs.

“My original thought was to go down there, cut my teeth, learn some things, and eventually get back to the public-relations or writing side of things,” he explained. “But I ended up loving what we were doing; we were starting a team from scratch in San Antonio, and I got to see that on a day-to-day basis.”

Tasked with selling season tickets, corporate partnerships, and group packages, Costa said he could see momentum build for the sport and the team in a city that could never be described as a hockey hotbed.

“I saw over the course of my three and half years with the club that we were making a real impact,” he said, using that phrase to describe both the efforts of the sales team on the club as they related to the team’s success, and the franchise’s work to become a force within the community. “The hockey piece kind of sells itself, but we had to find a niche to get people out to the building and experience this sport for the first time; we centered on connecting with the community, connecting with kids, showing them experiences at the building and through our games that they couldn’t get from going to a San Antonio Spurs game, and providing them access they couldn’t get with the NBA.

“This opened my eyes to the difference between the, quote, unquote, minor leagues and the professionals,” he went on, “and the cool things you could do from a community-connectivity standpoint with our league.”

Costa’s success in San Antonio — he was one of the top performers on a sales team that won awards from the league for highest group-sales growth — led him to be recruited by the head of the Team Business Services Department formed a few years earlier to help franchises develop and share best practices.

Paul Picknelly

Paul Picknelly says the ability to leverage the talent and resources of 26 local owners is a huge benefit for Thunderbirds management.

“We were sharing revenue streams as a league, so the AHL was able to identify teams that were having success and teams that were doing really good things, and we were able to share that across the league,” he said, adding that he joined that department in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed his seven years in a role he described as part support system, part consultant.

But, as mentioned earlier, a career goal he set some time ago was to one day manage a team of his own.

“I viewed that opportunity with the American Hockey League as a chance to get my Ph.D. in sports business,” he explained. “I spent the past six and half years working closely with our other owners and presidents, helping them to improve their businesses, while also being completely entrenched in what works from an AHL perspective; it was a great learning ground for me.

“It got to the point where I wanted to see if I could actually enact all the things we talked about on a regular basis and helped our teams with,” he went on. “The ability to do so here in Springfield was very intriguing to me. I had worked with them over the course of time, I’ve seen opportunities, and there were things I wanted to see if I could make a difference with.”

Seeking Net Results

Looking forward, Costa said the challenge facing him, his management team, and the ownership group is not exactly the same as the one he encountered in San Antonio, but there are many similarities.

Professional hockey is certainly not new to Springfield — there has been an AHL team in the city since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House — and the sport of hockey is much more entrenched in the Northeast than it is in the Southwest. But in most respects, this is a new team and a new business, said Costa, adding that, as in San Antonio, he intends to improve attendance and profitability by building season-ticket and group sales and strong connectivity to the community.

He said this is not exactly a new strategy — those managing the former Springfield Falcons used the same words as they discussed their work — but efforts will take on a new sense of urgency and higher level of intensity.

Both will be needed, he acknowledged, to get the team over an attendance hump that has been a formidable obstacle for many years now. Indeed, while he didn’t have the figures at his disposal, Costa knew the Falcons were either last or just ahead of the Portland franchise when it came to average game attendance last season, a statistic that ultimately drove the previous ownership group to sell the team to the parent Arizona Coyotes, which moved it to Tucson.

To bring those numbers up significantly, the management team intends to first create that ‘experience’ mentioned earlier and then sell it to families, groups, the business community, and the region as a whole — the basic road map used in San Antonio and other cities, he noted.

“The game plan is to take pieces of everything I’ve learned over the last six and half years and put those together to form a business plan that’s going to have success here in Springfield,” he explained. “Though there is a rich hockey history in Springfield, with this being a charter member of our league, we’re essentially starting a business from scratch.”

When asked about specific elements of that business plan, Costa said most involve developing what he called a “sales-focused mindset” and a service-oriented approach to everything the team does.

And while all types of sales are important, including season tickets and walk-ups, group sales are usually the prime mover for franchises in this league, and for many reasons.

“What really drives our business and what fuels revenues is the group-ticket side of the business,” he explained. “This involves getting out into the local community and selling tickets to groups that are going to come out on a regular basis and participate in our games, have a good time, and, hopefully, expose new people and new kids to the experience we provide and create fans for a long time moving forward.”

If a sellable experience can be created, he went on, as well as solid connections with the community, then the franchise can succeed whether it is at the top of the standings, the middle, or even the bottom.

“We have markets that are successful even though the team isn’t winning,” he noted, adding that winning is obviously preferable. “That happens because you create an environment that shows that value to people, and there’s an experience that goes well beyond wins and losses on the ice. And that’s going to be the plan — creating a season ticket that people can see value in.”

Model Franchises

Costa said he’s optimistic the new franchise can soar higher than previous teams in Springfield because he’s seen a number of success stories in similar markets — models that can be effectively emulated.

He pointed, for example, to what’s happened in Hartford, with its Wolf Pack, an affiliate of the NHL’s New York Rangers, and a team he worked with extensively in his role with the AHL.

“Since coming back into the market as the Hartford Wolf Pack, they’ve had a great group there that has focused on tickets,” he explained, adding that, while this sounds obvious, it’s actually not. “We laid out a plan for them on where they needed to focus, and on finding more ways for them to connect with their local community at their arena. If you were to visit there, you’d see that they’ve done a great job with their building and with creating an experience and that interconnectivity — and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

The team in Providence, long called the Reds, but more recently the Bruins (because it’s an affiliate of the NHL team in Boston), is another example.

“They’re very driven from a sales perspective, and they’re one of the best at doing that,” Costa explained. “They have a full-on sales force making out-bound connections with their community. If you go to a Providence Bruins game, you see groups connected to their games constantly, from the national anthem through to everything else; they do a great job of utilizing the space that they have to sell tickets.”

Another thing those franchises do well that the Thunderbirds must emulate is getting fans to do much more than turn out for games, said Costa.

Elaborating, he said very successful teams work hard to get their fan base, and especially those who purchase season tickets, engaged, a verb he would explain in some detail.

“Selling season tickets just for the sake of selling season tickets is fantastic, but if people aren’t using those tickets and they’re not going to the games and getting that experience, then you’re not getting full benefit from those sales,” he explained. “You want people who are engaged, who are ambassadors that feel a connection to the organization that they won’t get anywhere else. That’s something I want to create.”

Moving forward, while the team is several months and perhaps a full year behind the schedule it would like to be on with regard to all the initiatives described above, it does have a few things working for it for next season and beyond.

First, it is now the only AHL franchise left in Massachusetts after Worcester lost its team, said Picknelly, noting that the Thunderbirds will attempt to effectively widen their circle of influence and bring in fans from across the state and especially from Worcester west.

Meanwhile, MGM’s $950 million casino is expected to bring several thousand people to Springfield each day, while also providing an attractive incentive to those planning meetings and conventions to take their events to Greater Springfield. Thus, the casino has serious potential to bring more families and groups to the MassMutual Center for individual games, said Picknelly.

But easily the biggest asset the team has moving forward is that large — and local — ownership group, he went on.

It translates into 26 people (all of them successful business owners in their own right) passionate about hockey in this region, committed to making it work, and willing to use their businesses and any other means available to them to promote the team and get fans to the games.

“These owners will be looking upon their local professional hockey team in a different way than they have in the past,” he explained — a natural sentiment when one is making an investment in that franchise. “For example, myself and two other owners own four of the five hotels in downtown Springfield; we’re going to sell hockey differently than how we did it in the past in our hotels.”

The same is true of all the owners, including the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners, he went on, adding that their stores are visited by more than 250,000 people a week, customers who will likely be exposed to the new hockey franchise in some way during those visits.

Murphy agreed, noting that the team will benefit from that new and expanded sales force he described, coupled with that large and local ownership group — a powerful combination, in his estimation.

“This sales force will work hand in glove with 26 of the most successful business owners in the Pioneer Valley,” he went on. “You can’t possibly overstate our ability to leverage these relationships.”

Bottom Line

As he sought to sum up what he described as a “new era” for hockey in this region, Picknelly chose to relate an e-mail he received from an individual who wants to join the new ownership team and likely will.

“He said he spent the last few nights sleepless, thinking about ways to sell hockey,” Picknelly recalled, adding that just about everyone already in this ownership group has probably done the same thing.

Sleepless nights do not directly correspond to success at the box office, he implied, but they do convey energy, commitment, and, most importantly, passion.

Both he and Costa believe those traits, and especially the last one, will enable the Thunderbird franchise to fly as high and fast as its namesake, and reach new heights.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Choreographing a Game Plan

Jacob’s Pillow

Pamela Tatge says an invite to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal set by choreographers across the country and around the world.

There are 10 weeks to the season at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival each summer, and two main theaters hosting productions. That means 20 dance groups get to appear during those extended weekends between late June and the end of August.

But that’s a tiny fraction of the number that would like to book a trip to the picturesque campus in the Berkshire County hamlet of Becket, noted Pamela Tatge, who said that to be chosen for one of those 20 spots represents what she called a serious “vote of confidence” for the troupe in question.

“This is a very powerful brand — to get to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal that choreographers across the country and around the world share,” said Tatge, who recently took over as director of ‘the Pillow,’ as it’s known, succeeding Ella Baff. “It is a gold standard.”

Choosing which groups get this vote of confidence is a team effort, but something at or near the top of a lengthy list of her job responsibilities, said Tatge, who arrived in April.

Others include everything from fund-raising to marketing; from preservation (this is a National Historic Landmark) to overseeing acclaimed education and residency programs; from so-called audience engagement (welcoming attendees to those aforementioned performances, for example) to working with the institution’s large board of directors to create a vision and set a tone, artistically and otherwise, for the Pillow moving forward.

And recently, there have been some additions to that list, or at least matters that have taken on a new sense of urgency.

These include efforts to work in greater collaboration with other Berkshire-area attractions and institutions to make the region an even greater destination, and work to develop new and different ways to diversify the audiences at those performances and, especially, engage more young people in dance, the Pillow, and the arts in general.

Tatge, who comes to the Becket campus from a lengthy stint as director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, embraces every line on that job description and the broad, overarching challenge of continuing a proud, 84-year-old tradition.

“I knew how precious this institution was,” she said while explaining this career move, “and what an incredible opportunity it would be to be invited to lead it.”

For this issue and its special Summer Happenings section, BusinessWest talked at length with Tatge about the Pillow, her vision for its future, and how she intends to carefully choreograph a game plan for this venerable institution for the decades to come.

The Next Steps

Tatge said she couldn’t recall how many times she had taken in performances at Jacob’s Pillow over the years, but made it clear she didn’t need directions to the Becket campus, located just off Route 20.

Created by Ted Shawn, one of the first notable male pioneers of American modern dance, in 1933, the Pillow has been not only a place to take in fine dance, she explained, but also a scholarly retreat, both literally and figuratively, in many respects, providing a window into the past, present, and, in some ways, the future of contemporary dance.

“Jacob’s Pillow has been in my consciousness ever since I was a dance presenter,” she said, adding that she considers her work with dance to be perhaps her signature accomplishment at Wesleyan. “It’s the place I looked to discover emerging artists, to see international work that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see because I didn’t have the travel resources at my institution, and for its resources — the archives are so extensive and so important for dance curators like me to access.”

So when a headhunter called last fall inquiring about whether she would be interested in succeeding Baff, Tatge offered an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ thus setting the wheels in motion for what would become a much different kind of visit to the Becket campus.

Fast-forwarding to this past April, Tatge said that, upon arriving on campus, she set out to immediately fill the calendar with meetings involving a variety of stakeholders, from the staff to board members to the managers of other arts institutions in the Berkshires with which the Pillow collaborates.

She described them all as learning experiences that will be of great benefit as she goes about tackling all the responsibilities within that description.

She said her meetings with board members have been especially enlightening and eye-opening.

“They are palpably passionate about this dance form, and they are here all the time,” she explained, adding that she’s met with 21 of the 23 members. “I wanted to understand their connection, hopes, and dreams for the Pillow individually.”

Looking forward, she said she has a number of goals for the institution, and generally, they can be described as efforts to continue and strengthen traditions that have been in place for decades.

“I want to continue and deepen our investment in choreographers and the development of new work, using the campus at Jacob’s Pillow as a research site for artists,” she explained. “And think of the many ways we can leverage the assets we have at our magnificent site and our archives for the benefit of artists. I also want to continue our commitment to international work, making sure our audiences witness the world here, as they always have.”

Getting into greater detail, she said one of her goals is to continue work she described as cross-disciplinary.

Indeed, at Wesleyan, Tatge became known for work that brought different arts forms together in unique ways. In one, she brought a Japanese artist and a Wesleyan history professor together for a course on the history of the atomic bomb — the former through the work of artists in postwar Japan, and the latter handling the science and history.

Such work dovetails with initiatives already in place at Jacob’s Pillow, she said, listing, as just one example, a partnership with MASS MoCA in North Adams that brings dance and modern visual arts together.

“I’m fascinated by the intersection of art forms,” she explained. “And a lot of the work we will do at MASS MoCA will involve artists who are working at the crossroads of visual arts and dance, and I’m delighted to have that platform for that kind of work.”

Rallying the

Pamela Tatge

Pamela Tatge says she embraces all of the many lines on her very lengthy job description as director at Jacob’s Pillow.

Meanwhile, another priority will be work to broaden audiences — and the Pillow’s membership base — and draw more young people into the arts at all levels. This is not a challenge unique to the Pillow, she said, noting that arts institutions across the country face the same hurdle, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

Indeed, the Pillow has been engaged in a number of initiatives in this realm, everything from incorporating more live music into performances to taking its act (and acts) off site and into area communities.

As an example, she said the group scheduled to perform in mid-August, Brooklyn-based FLEXN, will conduct an advance visit to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. It will include a dance-off (practitioners from across the region will be invited to participate), with members of the group taking part. The young dancers will be invited to take in one of the group’s performances in Becket.

“To engage new audiences, we need to leave our site and take dance into many different parts of our county,” Tatge explained, “as a way to expose audiences, on their turf, to what it is we do, and then invite them to come to our house after we’ve gone to their house.”

There are many other initiatives in this realm, she said, listing everything from visits to area schools to more intense use of social media to market the Pillow and its performances, to free admission to the so-called Inside/Out Stage, where groups beyond those chosen 20 perform each week.

As for that aforementioned work to decide which 20 groups get to come to Becket for a given season, Tatge said this is a challenging assignment as well, given the number of groups, or projects, wanting to get that vote of confidence she described, as well as the need to satisfy many different tastes for dance and its various genres, all while maintaining an international flavor.

She described the process of meeting that challenge with a single word — balance — and a commitment to creating it.

“I want to make sure that all of the appetites of our audience have to be taken care of,” she explained, adding that she is in the thick of creating the schedule for 2017 and is already thinking about 2018.

Elaborating, she said this assignment involves a mix of proactively seeking out choreographers and companies whose work represents “the intention and aesthetic I’m excited about for our audiences” as well as fielding entreaties from agents and groups about existing projects they would love to bring to Becket.

“What’s wonderful about the current Pillow program is how broad it is in terms of genre and geography, and I want to maintain that,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re a national center for dance, so we need to make sure that we’re being geographically represented when we’re considering U.S. artists, while continuing our commitment to international work.”

A look at the 2016 schedule, which includes groups from Stuttgart, Germany; Chicago; New York; Santa Fe; Seattle; and a host of other cities, reveals this geographic diversity, said Tatge, adding that this is certainly a tradition that will continue.

Beyond the Routine

When asked how she intended to make her mark, or put her stamp, on Jacob’s Pillow during her tenure, Tatge said one obvious answer would be the manner in which the schedule for those 10 weeks each summer is filled.

But from a larger-picture perspective, the answer lies in how, and how successfully, she addresses each of the many lines in her job description — from broadening the audience to creating those collaborations with other arts institutions, to securing a solid future for this eight-decade-old tradition.

When it comes to that assignment, Tatge has been given her own vote of confidence, and she intends to make the very most of that opportunity.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]