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Bloomington’s new arts and entertainment manager talks about filling the arena and repairing a ‘toxic’ workplace at BCPA

The BCPA and its front lawn.
Ralph Weisheit

Bloomington has hired a new manager to oversee operations for its two downtown entertainment venues.

Anthony Nelson has been a business manager for the city for seven years. After six years working for Miller Park Zoo, he served as business manager for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. He also stepped in as interim zoo director and team lead for the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA).

Nelson has a tough job. Grossinger Motors Arena, until recently, has been managed by outside firms and consistently lost money. Previous area managers stole city funds. The city dropped its previous arena management company during the early stages of the COVID pandemic.

The BCPA has had its own troubles over the last year with several high-profile departures and claims of a toxic work environment.

Anthony Nelson
Anthony Nelson

Nelson said he's officially been on the job for a week, but has been working for months to get events booked at the two venues.

“We know we have a challenging job ahead of us, but we’ve enjoyed putting together the BCPA season and we look forward to adding the arena to our list of shows we can book,” Nelson said in an interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.


Nelson said he's working to bring a good work culture after several high-level departures in the last year. The BCPA's last artistic director, JongHun Kim, was fired for a series of alleged violations, including workplace bullying.

According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Kim was fired on Feb. 22, one month after he was placed on paid administrative leave for a variety of reported offenses, including workplace bullying, misuse of a city purchasing card (P-card), and violating the city’s drug and alcohol-free workplace policy.

A city employee who worked with Kim reported to human resources that Kim directed abusive and misogynistic comments toward her and said she would be fired if she complained.

“I tried advocating for myself and am honestly scared of the backlash that may occur, but when I am throwing up at work because (of) the toxic work environment, that doesn’t seem fair,” she said in a correspondence to the city’s human resources department.

The employee said Kim also was drinking alcohol at a Bloomington farmers market in front of coworkers and did not pay for the alcohol. When she confronted him about it, Kim replied that he manages her, so “look away like I said,” the document stated.

Kim is now listed as the associate director of education for the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston. When reached by phone, Kim said he “strongly disagrees” with all of the allegations raised in the report and said he already was looking for another job when he was dismissed.

“When I heard that news (of a complaint filed against him), a bitter taste came into my mouth, I would say metaphorically, and I started to look for another job,” he said.

Kim said the incident about him drinking involved him not supposed to be working that day, but he was temporarily helping out.

Kim said he believes complaints filed against him were retaliation for his efforts to force out former BCPA director Jim Mack.

“After Jim Mack was gone, there was lots of work drama there,” Kim said.

Mack left in January following a domestic battery charge. City officials have not indicated a reason for his departure. BCPA production manager Ryan High left at the same time.

Nelson, the new BCPA manager, said he's worked to get buy-in by helping the staff build and book this year's lineup.

“There was some uneasiness at first when you lose your leadership and lose people in higher positions. We are all pulling a little more weight, but I think we’ve moved past that and that staff has been tremendous and I think the culture there is good,” Nelson said.


Nelson said the city projects to save close to $500,000 per year by merging most of the operations for the arena and Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. The city has combined box office, operations and other staff to run the new venues, he said. Previously, the city had private companies run the arena.

“Being able to bring them into the city, we’ll also have the other departments within the city that will provide services to help us out as well. It will be a city effort and a department effort,” Nelson said.

Nelson added it's possible for the venue to turn a profit, but said the city also must weigh the overall economic impact that events will bring to restaurants, retail stores and hotels.

“When we book events, we are not just going to say we want 14 concerts and we don’t care about the cost of the concert that we are bringing it in no matter what. We’ll make sure we are doing the work behind the scenes to make sure it is going to be successful and it is something that makes financial sense,” he said.

Nelson noted country music acts made up 19 of the top 20 top-selling events at the arena, but he wants to add more diverse musical acts, including pop and hip-hop, and other types of entertainment, such as comedians and sports.

Nelson said he still plans to hire up to seven more staffers to fill out the arena entertainment lineup, adding he expects a full return to normal for arena events starting next year.

Nelson said the city is still researching how much sports would be a good fit for the venue. It has hosted indoor football, pro hockey and basketball. Nelson said minor league basketball doesn't make sense for the arena, since it would compete for fans with the Illinois State basketball teams.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.