New And Renovated Halls Vie For Bookings

The building boom in next-generation venues for live entertainment that began in the 1990s has continued in the past decade, but at a slower pace. The venue marketplace is increasingly competitive in cities of all sizes. While a number of new buildings have recently opened their doors, other facilities are undergoing renovation and modernization, in pursuit of bookings from promoters that have multiple options available to them. ¶ Here, we've previewed a sample of projects to highlight the state of live entertainment venues today.

NEW VENUES

New Meadowlands Stadium

East Rutherford, N.Y.

In the spring of 2010, the New Meadowlands Stadium opened its doors as the first building owned and operated by two NFL franchises: the New York Jets and New York Giants. This $1.6 billion project, 100% privately funded and built by both teams, opened four months ahead of schedule and on budget, according to NMS senior VP of events and guest experiences Ron Vandeveen.

Since opening last March, the NMS has hosted 37 major events including 20 NFL games and nine concerts, led by four sold-out Bon Jovi shows that grossed $21.3 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.

In less than a year, the stadium has hosted more than 2 million guests, Vandeveen says. Promoters have included AEG Live, Live Nation, Trevanna, U.S. Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and Inside Lacrosse. Ticketmaster handles the building's ticketing.

In May 2010, the NFL awarded Super Bowl XLVIII to NMS, marking the first time the game has been held in an outdoor stadium in a cold-weather market.

The 360-degree seating bowl, with a capacity for football of 82,500, boasts a tight, intimate configuration, putting fans closer to the on-field action. The stadium has twice the number of restrooms, elevators and escalators as the building it replaced and now employs more than 3,700 game-day employees at every NFL game, almost double that of the old stadium. In addition to the 67,500-capacity general seating, the stadium offers more than 200 suites with roughly 5,000 seats and five premium club spaces with roughly 10,000 seats, featuring lounge areas, bars, multiple high-definition TVs and high-quality food and beverage offerings. A new rail link provides transit service from Manhattan.

Consol Energy Center

Pittsburgh

The $321 million Consol Energy Center (CEC) proved its value early on by opening two weeks early last August to host Paul McCartney on the tail end of his North American tour.

"It has been an unbelievable first couple months," says Jay Roberts, GM for SMG at the 18,000-capacity arena. The building was originally set to open last September until McCartney came calling.

"We had been speaking with [McCartney tour director] Barrie Marshall about opening up with Sir Paul McCartney, but his U.S. tour had to wrap up by late August," Roberts says. "We assembled the construction team and discussed whether it was possible to move the opening up a couple weeks. The team was all onboard. We moved up the opening to Aug. 18 and opened with two incredible Paul McCartney concerts."

Having McCartney open an arena is "a dream come true," Roberts says, but he adds that the excitement didn't end there. In its first two months, Consol hosted performances by Rush, Lady Gaga, Nickelback, Roger Waters, Chris Tomlin, George Strait/Reba McEntire, the Eagles, Dane Cook, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Chelsea Handler and Justin Bieber.

The CEC was the first major arena in North America to open with a gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and it's the new home of reigning Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins. The arena boasts a Dolby 5.1 sound system, along with other production capabilities.

The CEC is a companion venue for the existing Mellon Arena, also managed by SMG. The new arena offers loading docks, a rigging grid, more locker room space, and a half-house and full upper-bowl curtaining system. "The system has been enjoyed by many of the artists already," Roberts says. "The most frequently used curtain is our upper-bowl curtain, but our half-house curtain allows for a great theater-style setup as well."

The venue is a Ticketmaster building, and Roberts says Live Nation has "led the pack" in terms of concert volume to date. "AEG has always been a good partner and continues to bring great acts into the building," he says. "Bill Blumenreich, Generation Exodus, Nader Entertainment, Outback and Beaver have all booked events in the new place as well."

Amway Center

Orlando, Fla.

Orlando's new Amway Center, a $382 million, 20,000-capacity arena that replaces the city's Amway Arena, opened on time and on budget, according to Allen Johnson, who oversees all public venues for the City of Orlando.

The market was ready. "Since the Amway Center is replacing the Amway Arena, we were already known as a great entertainment market," Johnson says.

Bookings are "picking up," Johnson says. "We are seeing a nice uptick of both bookings and inquires in this quarter," he says. When asked what type of events he and his team are going after, Johnson says, "We are not picky. We believe with our different curtaining systems that any show [with a capacity of] 6,000-18,500 we can accommodate."

The Amway Center is a Ticketmaster building, and so far Live Nation, AEG Live, Beaver, Feld Productions and NYK Productions have held the most shows in the building.

The venue's ribbon-cutting took place Oct. 1, and the Eagles presented the first concert in the building on Oct. 7. Early events included Vincente Fernandez, the Machete Latin hip-hop tour, college basketball, WWE's "Raw," Chayanne, André Rieu and a college battle of the marching bands, along with several Magic pre-season basketball games.

Intrust Bank Arena

Wichita, Kan.

The new SMG-managed Intrust Bank Arena is a $206 million showplace that opened on time and on budget on Jan. 9, 2010, with a sold-out concert by Brad Paisley, who shared the bill with Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore. A.J. Boleski is GM of the 16,000-capacity arena.

Concert capacity can seat up to 15,000 guests, and the curtain system can take seating down to as little as 3,000. Assistant GM Scott Neal says Wichita, Kan., routes very well with Kansas City to the northeast and Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., to the south.

"Bookings have been great," Neal says. "We have had a wide variety of events, including such concerts as Billy Joel/Elton John, the Eagles, George Strait and Taylor Swift; family shows [from] Feld, VEE Corp. and the Harlem Globetrotters; and the [Central Hockey League] tenant, the Wichita Thunder."

Ticketing at the arena is handled by Tickets.com/Select-a-Seat. Primary promoters include Live Nation, AEG Live and Outback Concerts.

RENOVATIONS

Madison Square Garden

New York

Billed as the "World's Most Famous Arena," New York's Madison Square Garden is in the midst of a massive renovation with an estimated cost of $775 million-$850 million. The "top to bottom transformation" is funded by MSG, which was recently spun off from parent company Cablevision. The goal: an enhanced Garden experience for customers, athletes, entertainers, fans, suite holders and corporate partners.

Among the upgrades are a new Chase Square Seventh Avenue entrance, significantly wider concourses, several new food and entertainment amenities, improved sightlines, more comfortable seating and a dynamic new scoreboard. There's also state-of-the-art lighting, sound and LED video systems in high-definition; fiber optic cabling throughout the building; new suites, clubs and hospitality areas; new "Chase Bridges" suspended above the arena floor; and new views of the city from several areas of the venue.

Despite all of these additions, the intimacy of the arena bowl will be maintained. The Garden's iconic ceiling is also being restored, and an expanded homage to the building's history is planned.

The transformed Garden will provide new opportunities for its blue chip corporate partners. Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have already signed on as Signature Partners with integration into the transformed Garden. JPMorgan Chase recently became MSG's first Marquee Partner.

The architect on the project is Brisbin Brook Beynon. The construction manager is Turner, and the project manager is Jones Lang LaSalle. Work on the renovation is under way and will remain a year-round project, sequenced to maximize construction efforts during three summers (2011-13) when the Garden will be shut down. The building will remain open during the regular seasons for the NBA's Knicks and NHL's Rangers throughout the project.

Public concourses will be either doubled or tripled in size, some with spectacular city views. Other upgrades include a wider selection of concessions options, including Budweiser Fan Decks and Chase Bridges, which directly open to the arena bowl. The new seats will be larger and more comfortable, and improved upper-bowl sightlines will put patrons more than 17 degrees closer to the action. The one-of-a-kind Chase Bridges will provide views of the arena floor and offer a unique perspective for fans.

Fifty-eight lower-level suites will be enlarged by 40%, moved 50% closer than the current configuration and include seats in the arena bowl. There will be 20 new event-level suites and 18 remodeled ninth-level suites. There will also be two new club spaces, one at the event level and the other on the arena's lower level. The project is expected to be completed by the 2013-14 season.

Verizon Center

Washington, D.C.

The Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., has been undergoing extensive renovations since last summer, funded through a revenue bond passed by voters in the District of Columbia to keep the arena competitive in attracting events to the city.

Executive suites have been created on each event level, following the trend in arena design to put the highest-paying customers closer to the action. Additional hospitality space is available for season ticket holders for the NBA's Washington Wizards, the arena's home tenant. And the venue's new owners, Monumental Sports & Entertainment Group, have new space to host meetings and private events.

The new Acela Club restaurant offers seats overlooking the arena bowl for home games of the Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals. All 106 executive suites are being updated and remodeled to allow for some customization by clients who lease the suites.

The arena's press room was remodeled, as was the VIP season ticket holder lounge located on the east end of the building. The hallway leading up to the Coaches Club was painted and branded with Monumental Sports & Entertainment signage, one of a number of changes to highlight the brand of the building's new owner. New moveable Courtside Club seating for VIPs during all Wizards games was created on the venue's west end.

Abe Pollin, who owned and managed the Wizards, Verizon Center and the Baltimore Ticketmaster franchise under his management company Washington Sports & Entertainment, died in November 2009. On June 10, 2010, the final purchase of those entities from the Pollin Trust was conducted by Ted Leonsis and his partnership, then-known as Lincoln Holdings. Monumental Sports comprises several partners, with Leonsis the majority owner/founder/chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment.

"All of the renovations will keep the arena competitive in attracting events to the city and fans to the arena and surrounding neighborhood," says Sheila Francis, director of event and venue communications for the Verizon Center. "With the extent of new arenas being built since Verizon Center opened and new amenities being offered in arenas, Verizon Center needs to keep up with the Joneses, having just turned 13 years old in December. All of these renovations not only continue to make the arena attractive and competitive, but add to the live event experience at Verizon Center."