Kansas native named new arena GM

The Intrust Bank Arena opened six months ago, but A.J. Boleski has wanted to work there for four years.

His chance will come July 26, when he starts as its general manager, SMG announced Tuesday. SMG is a private company that runs the arena under a contract with Sedgwick County.

The arena's first general manager, Chris Presson, resigned two months ago citing family reasons.

Boleski, a Kansas native who now works for an SMG-run arena in Huntington, W.Va., said his interest in Intrust Bank Arena was twofold.

"Obviously, I'll be able to come and be part of a successful business," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We'll also be able to come home to our home state."

Boleski, 33, is originally from Topeka and graduated from Fort Hays State University in 2001.

His wife, Katie, is from Goodland. They have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter.

The 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena opened Jan. 9. The downtown venue was paid for by a 30-month, 1-cent county sales tax that voters approved in 2004.

Colleagues said Boleski's hands-on experience from working at smaller arenas helped pump life back into Huntington's 7,500-seat Big Sandy Superstore Arena. Big Sandy Superstore is a regional chain.

"He works from top to bottom," said Judy Jennings, vice president market manager for nine Clear Channel Radio stations. "He can run a forklift."

In smaller towns with fewer arena employees, that's important, she said.

Before Boleski was in charge, the Huntington arena drew three to four big acts a year, and now it books about 10 to 15 a year, Boleski said.

Big acts include Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Breaking Benjamin, Jennings said.

Upcoming acts in Huntington include award-winning country duo Sugarland and the Miller Lite World Championship of Cornhole V, according to the arena's website. An indoor football team will start a two-year contract with the arena in 2011.

What acts would Boleski pursue in Wichita?

Like most arena managers, he said he can't discuss information on coming attractions until negotiations are finished.

Boleski said he plans to come into the Wichita job maintaining the current level of events and getting to know the community better.

"A key is listening to what the community has to say," he said. "We'll use it to guide us as we move forward."

Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh said he's confident in SMG's choice to help carry continued success at the arena.

"There's a great deal of momentum — we're in a honeymoon period," he said. "We want (a general manager) to maintain momentum and provide great entertainment for our community."

Unruh said he thought SMG's general manager selection process was fair, and he appreciated that SMG included local managers in the search.

Boleski began his career with SMG in 2001 at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, where he was event and sales coordinator. He also has worked as director of event services at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, an SMG-managed facility in Canton, Ohio.

Intrust Bank Arena is a natural progression in Boleski's career, said Gary Desjardins, regional general manager for SMG.

"With his management skills and success, he's a good fit for the building," he said. "And the community is a good fit for him."