The Longview Economic Development Board, LEDCO; the city of Longview and various community leaders came together Wednesday evening at the Maude Cobb center to digest and absorb information on the new civic amphitheater slated for construction. Among those meeting with local officials were Michael Miller of Convention, Sports, and Leisure (CSL), an International Market Feasibility Firm, who has worked on several such projects, most recently a 15,000- to 20,000-seat amphitheater in Los Angeles. CSL is a leading advisory and planning firm specializing in providing consulting services to the convention, sport, entertainment, and visitor industries. CSL has conducted numerous feasibility studies for communities and projects of all sizes, including stadiums, arenas, ballparks, speedways, amphitheaters and more. CSL is a subsidiary of Legends, the US based market-leader owned by the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.Also present was Wendy Riggs, who with four decades of experience in this field added her input to this public hearing and feasibility study for Longview’s proposed new entertainment venue. Riggs attended (and graduated from) both Auburn University and Alabama State University where she studied theater arts and management. Riggs, is an independent consultant with extensive knowledge of amphitheater operations. She is currently the Vice President of Operations for the Walton Arts Center, which includes the Walmart Amphitheater. She has nearly 40 years of experience in arts and venue management, including work at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, True Colors Theater Company, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Fox Theatre, and Walt Disney World.
Both consultants presented facts and figures from the feasibility study for this new amphitheater to be located along Interstate 20. Also, their presentation answered pertinent questions.
Does the market exist for such an amphitheater? Yes.
Is the market definable? Yes.
Will there be a return on the investment? Yes, depending on the model.
Does it give back to the community? Yes.
Will it have an economic impact on south and all of Longview? Yes.
Is it a catalyst for South Longview economic development and revitalization? Yes.
Tier 1 will feature such entertainers as Beyonce`. Tier 2, Elton John. Tier 2b and 3 and Tier 4 (where Longview belongs) will bring in such entertainers as the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and others. There is also the matter of big city competition.
Their data places Longview in a gap. This location between Dallas and Shreveport could be an advantage should big name entertainers have a day off and elect to explore something new–like play in Longview amphitheater. If they check out the Longview amphitheater and like it they are liable to return and perform. Riggs hammered home the basics of this potential arrangement and business.
“This type of business is about the deal,” she emphasized. “It is about who is going to be booking your venue–Longview.”
In addition, Miller explained how the city will financially profit. A Longview-based amphitheater will draw attendees from a wide geographical radius, but ticket sales alone do not make much money. Added money-making attractions include sponsorships, premium seating, food and liquor and soft drink sales, parking fees, upkeep and maintenance fees, all of which added to ticket sales will earn a projected $200,000 yearly for the city. There are also monies to be brought in from sales of box seats and reserved parking places. The amphitheater’s design is also significant.
An attractive exterior appearance is key, and it must be covered in the event of inclement weather. Miller cited the example of how Beaumont woefully failed when it constructed a 14,000-seat amphitheater to compete with Houston that is only 88 miles away. Longview, however, is far enough from Dallas that it will not have to compete with Big D in this fashion. Consequently, Miller counsels a seating capacity of about 7500 for here.
“Longview should not overbuild,” Riggs and Miller stated.
The total projected cost, taking into consideration construction time and space, is $19.2 million. A similar venue built in Tuscaloosa lacked a covering and had limited parking. It cost $11 million because the land was generously donated. The question of funding was on some residents’ minds and they got their questions answered.
Funding is projected to come from sources such as:
* Philanthropic contributions
*Automobile dealerships that will pay to have their cars displayed at the amphitheater’s entrances, and provide transportation to performing artists
*Public sectors. But that is not all.
Furthermore, Miller discussed the amphitheater’s economic impact analysis, which is money people would not spend in Longview were it not for the amphitheater. It came to a forecast of $5.4 million in direct new economic impact.
Specific location is also vital. Easy access and high visibility are needed. The location on Estes Parkway near I-20 and the Wal-Mart Super Center seems promising.
“There is an opportunity to create economic development in this area of I-20,” said LEDCO’s Chairwoman Peggy Vaughn. “There is an entrance on Estes, and visibility on I-20.”
The anticipated next steps in the project is to garner corporate and community support. Wade Johnson, of Johnson and Pace Engineering Inc. and immediate past Chairman of the Longview Chamber of Commerce Board described how this has worked in other areas.
“In our inter-city visits, we discovered these cities have big corporate benefactors,” he said. “In Longview, we do not have that, so we formed a foundation to raise money.”
Still, the main topics of discussion were how to pay for the amphitheater, and will it be a financial success?
Miller outlined past ventures, and described how and why they either succeeded or failed. He said that when a proper operating mode is created and the correct practices are followed, the venues will at worst break even, and more likely have a great, positive economic impact. There were yet other concerns.
Executive Director of LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center Cynthia Hellen voiced doubts as to whether at least 7500 Longview residents will consistently show up for events at the new amphitheater. This sized attendance seems reasonable considering people are expected to be attending from a radius of 30 to 75 miles around the city. Also, the venue will host a variety of functions in addition to concerts. There was great enthusiasm for the overall project, and from numerous sources.
“It is a great idea. This will be good for South Longview and all of Longview,” exclaimed enthused LEDCO board member, businessman and rodeo promoter Edward Penney. “There will be lots of festivals, conventions and church events to bring in funds besides concerts.”
Longview Mayor Amy Mack credited LEDCO for taking a leading role in this civic enterprise, and encouraged everyone there to follow the LEDCO example and bring this project to a profitable conclusion.
“We should get behind this and make it work for all of Longview. We must have a unified community on this one,” he said. “This will put Longview on the interstate. We need the identity and people will come to spend money in our town.”