Sheldon mayor turned Pavilion GM

Former Sheldon mayor Tricia Meendering misses her role, but is loving her job as general manager of Crossroads Pavilion in Sheldon.

SHELDON—Tricia Meendering is living a dream.

That’s how she describes serving as general manager of Crossroads Pavilion in Sheldon, the event center built and opened when she was mayor.

Earlier this year, Meendering resigned as mayor — after nearly a decade, making her the city’s longest-serving elected leader — to became GM.

“My first day was March 8. It’s crazy. It’s fun. It’s different,” she said. “It’s busier than what I thought and continues to be that way.”

Meendering was a leading advocate for the facility as mayor. She drove to the site during the construction period and took photos, watching the Pavilion rise from an overgrown field with a borrow pit carved into it to a glimmering event center.

It has become a hub of activity, with events, preparation or teardown work occurring about 300 days a year. The Pavilion opened in September 2017 and hosted 39 events that partial year.

The number rose to 118 in 2018 and as of mid-November, 148 events were booked and paid for this year. Another 63 events are scheduled for 2020.

Meendering said such a gradual increase is natural, since events, including weddings and corporate gatherings, are scheduled months in advance.

“In this industry to host events, you have to catch up, since events are booked in advance,” she said. “It just took us some time to get into the flow of things.”

Crossroads Pavilion is ahead of schedule on paying for itself, and Meendering said that is another point of pride. Some worried the city was investing in a facility that would not be used at a rate to justify its $5.2 million cost, but she said that has proved false.

Meendering said she prided herself in being savvy with the budget and keeping a close eye on revenue when she was mayor and she has the same sense of fiscal responsibility the Pavilion GM.

“Just because that’s your budget doesn’t mean you spend it all,” she said.

It sells itself

Crossroads Pavilion sells itself, Meendering said.

She said when people walk in and see the beautiful interior, and glimpse the pond located behind it, they are ready to sign a contract. No matter the season, it’s an impressive sight.

“That sells this place like the snap of a finger,” Meendering said.

While booking events is a major part of her job, there is a lot of effort and energy required before and after events, she said.

“It takes days of work to prepare for some of those events, with computer, e-mail, planning,” Meendering said. “And then we have setup, teardown and custodial work.”

Dozens of weddings are held there every year. While getting a deal made with a prospective bride and groom is important, more work is required in the weeks and days leading up to the marriage ceremony and reception.

Meendering said among couple who have held their wedding at the Pavilion was one that had no ties to Sheldon and the surrounding area. But they chose the event center because of its look as much as its location, which was equidistant for both families.

“There were 350 people at the wedding, ” she said. “And not one person from Sheldon or northwest Iowa. That is a remarkable story.”

They held the ceremony on a grassy area outside the Pavilion and moved inside for the reception. Guests stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Sheldon, and they liked having fast-food places available for younger members of the party.

“It definitely has an impact on the community, ” Meendering said. “The local option sales tax has gone up. I do think that’s a direct impact. And it fills the hotel on weekends.”

Ideal location

The name Crossroads Pavilion was selected because it is located at the junction of highways 18 and 60. That means people pass by in all directions and see the event center, Meendering said.

When it opened in 2017, Brittany Behrendsen was the general manager. She took a job with Orange City Area Health System at the start of 2019, and Meendering decided to apply for the job.

She said Behrendsen got the center off to a good start. They are neighbors and Meendering said she can ask her questions about the Pavilion.

“She did a great job building a business up on its feet that had never existed, ” Meendering said.

Heather Jacobs has been the assistant general manager since spring 2018. They are the only two full-time employees, but two dozen people help out, serving as bartenders, servers and custodial workers. They help set up and tear down for events.

“We all pitch in where help is needed,” Meendering said.

She said she puts in a lot of hours, since either her or Jacobs are present when events are held.

“I knew it would be a lot, and this place is busy,” Meendering said. “It is a lot. And it’s getting busier. November-December is go time. It’s a good thing.”

Meendering is paid $55,000 a year after getting a raise this summer.

City manager Sam Kooiker, who was hired when Meendering was mayor, supervises her. He said she has adapted well to the position.

“She’s doing a great job,” he said.

Misses being mayor

When she applied for the position, Meendering was mayor and the children’s coordinator at Sheldon United Methodist Church.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss the positions I held before,” she said. “I miss being involved.”

Meendering said she wanted to remain as mayor and serve as the Pavilion’s GM. However, she was told it was a conflict of interest, since the mayor played a crucial role in hiring the city manager, who supervised the Pavilion general manager. She said she thought that could have been resolved in such a way that she was able to remain mayor, but other city officials disagreed, so she stepped down as mayor.

“It would have been awesome,” she said. “I can see how people would frown on that.”

Meendering has attended some council meetings and keeps a close eye on city politics and government. She said mayor Greg Geels, appointed to the position this spring and later elected to the post, has a handle on the job.

“Greg is doing well in his position,” Meendering said.

She said the dramatic rise in community involvement in city government has been interesting to witness.

“It’s something new that just came up,” Meendering said. “I don’t know what triggers the public to be more involved now. But it’s a good thing.”

Never say never

Meendering, 51, said she may run for mayor again someday, but she is no hurry to move on from the Pavilion. She said when she was hired as its GM, Kooiker asked her to make a seven-year commitment.

She replied by asking Kooiker, who was hired when she was mayor, if he planned to be in Sheldon for seven years.

Meendering said she is focused on the Pavilion.

She did enjoy being mayor. When she attends city meetings and someone mentions the word “mayor,” she is ready to respond before immediately realizing she doesn’t hold the position any longer.

“I would never say, ‘no.’ I would like to be in this position for some time,” she said. “Who knows what the future holds?”

She tells Pavilion guests she was mayor of Sheldon, although some already know. Meendering is proud of her service to the city and of the event center that was built during her administration.

There were some problems, including a power issue that had to be resolved to host some events. But the Pavilion opened on time and on budget.

After more than two years, there has been some wear and tear on equipment. Meendering said additional storage is needed and the Pavilion needs signage, more mirrors and electrical outlets as well as counter space.

“We could use more storage,” she said. “We knew storage would be a concern from Day One.”

More parking will likely be added, and Meendering has some ideas about that. Additional spaces could be added west of the current lot.

Meendering said she wants to see development in the open space by the Pavilion, but said she does not think it should be called a community park. Trails leading to the pond would be a welcome addition.

“I am in favor of a purpose for that area,” she said. “I am in favor of a dream.”

The outdoor space could host concerts and musical events. But she said labeling it a park might lead people to think it has playground equipment and that is not her vision for the area.

“That’s not really how I see this space being used,” Meendering said.

Meendering said the Pavilion’s success shows how crucial it is to have a vision and to work to make it real.

“It’s OK to dream,” she said. “If dreams come true, great. And this one did.”