After spending a decade searching for the perfect site, two years of construction and tens of millions in building costs, what Chuck Morris, Don Strasburg and Brent Fedrizzi most wanted to talk about as they recently strolled through Denver’s new Mission Ballroom is a small corner stretch of bleachers. It seems, at most venues, this triangle-shaped section towards the back and off to the side is unused space, but here it will be filled with general-admission fans on concrete steps. “We took space that was dead space and made it the best space,” Strasburg says.
The Mission, a 3,900-capacity concert venue in the city’s booming River North Arts District, opens Wednesday (Aug. 7) with the Lumineers, then will host 80 shows through New Year’s Eve, from Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington to the Steve Miller Band. The fast-talking AEG Presents Rocky Mountains promoters, in full-on promotional mode as they point out the massive, color-changing custom disco ball, bass traps and sonic captures, scrupulously avoid talk of the city’s ultra-competitive concert-promotion scene. Asked about their rivalry with Live Nation and the same-sized Fillmore Ballroom across town, co-president Fedrizzi instead rhapsodizes about AEG’s long relationships with touring stars. Finally, Strasburg says: “Have you seen this stage?”
Strasburg, co-president and senior talent buyer, continues: “There are kooky things about this place you don’t even notice. We suddenly had the opportunity to create our own box: ‘How do we make this room a little bit wider and how do we focus on intimacy?’ We came up to this idea of cantilevering out the sides. We create a tighter room with closer sightlines.”
The trio won’t talk about it, but the Mission is engineered, in part, to compete with the recently renovated Fillmore Auditorium, which AEG first opened across town 20 years ago but now belongs to Live Nation. Until this week, although AEG controls venues of many sizes — from the 1,600-capacity Ogden Theatre to the 6,500-capacity 1stBank Center in suburban Broomfield — the promoter lacked a room to accommodate Wiz Khalifa, Incubus or other acts with followings somewhere between large ballrooms and small arenas. “The obvious question is, what’s the impact going to be on the Fillmore?” says Vince Iwinski, manager of Umphrey’s McGee, which has relationships with both promoters and plays four nights at the Fillmore over New Year’s Eve week. “Both rooms stand to make each other better. Competition does that.”
Located in a boxy, metallic building in a former industrial park on the brink of developing with apartments and hotels, the Mission will anchor the newly developing, northeastern portion of RiNo, which Morris, the company’s president, calls “the fastest-growing, hip neighborhood this town has ever had.” On a weekday afternoon, days before the grand opening, workers hauled equipment onto the stage in this 60,000-square-foot venue at 4242 Wynkoop St. The Mission’s feel is large and airy, with gray concrete bleachers and wide side balconies; the oval-shaped concert space is flanked with bars and can downsize to 2,200 capacity for certain shows.
As the city’s population has increased 20% over the past decade, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s schedule fills up with almost nightly shows every summer, AEG and Live Nation have ramped up their battle to sign acts big and small. “It’s a free-for-all, is what it is,” says Doug Kauffman, owner of Nobody In Particular Presents, which owns the Ogden and Bluebird theatres. “Does that type of head-to-head competition end with giving every band that plays those places 100% of the gross? There’s just no limit when two large companies get into a bidding war.”
Live Nation reps wouldn’t comment.
Morris won’t say whether AEG bought or leased the land surrounding the Mission — “It’s a complicated deal” — but the Denver Post estimated construction at $40 million. Working with local Westfield Co., which is developing this 14-acre region as North Wynkoop, the Mission took 22 months to build. Naming it was a shorter process. “We all just kind of looked at each other: ‘We’ve been on a mission for years.’ We finally said, ‘Why don’t we just fucking call it the Mission?'” Strasburg recalls. “I also have an affinity for the Blues Brothers’ ‘mission from God.'”