Sound Off

Is Mesa Amphitheatre in Trouble? Outdoor Venue Losing Revenue Fast

A story in today's Arizona Republic should worry all local music fans. The paper reports that Mesa Amphitheatre, a grassy 5,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater has entered a world of hurt as it loses out on big-name acts booked into another city-owned space, Mesa Arts Center, and other competitors.

The Republic story paints a picture that's equally dire and ridiculous, pointing out that the venue's revenue fell "from $2.3 million to $366,446 during the past four years" (confusingly, including a loss in 2007-08) but that it could fall far further fast.

The venue is, by historical quirk, booked by the East Valley city's Parks and Rec department, which is otherwise occupied running several golf courses, the cemetery, and Hohokam stadium, while another city department books acts for the newer, prettier arts center.

From a press standpoint, it's no contest which group has their shit more together. Did you know there was some sort of Blues Blast at "The Amp" last weekend? Me neither, and I would presumably receive notice of such a thing. If the Arts Center's people, who are true pros, had been running the show, I would have had at least one personalized e-mail about it. Not that I'd be breaking my neck to cover a Blues Blast, but at least they'd have a shot at some coverage and, thus, some additional (and apparently needed) revenue.

That's not the only reason the outdoor venue is facing stiff competition from its neighbor.

Get this: "32-year-old facility is so outdated that it does not have air-conditioning backstage for performers." From May to October, I wouldn't even wish that on Kings Of Leon. (Okay, yeah, I would. But I'm a sadistic bastard when it comes to those things.)

The story is full of quotes from politicians hedging their bets, lest they step on some civil service hornet's nest by condemning an inefficiency that, for all we know, exists so Scott Smith's (fictional, as far as I know) wayward cousin can have a job. At the end, Tom LaPenna, owner of Lucky Man, the company that owns the Marquee, gives a quote saying he's tried to support the venue, but it's been hard.

"Over the last 10 years, we booked the most events at this venue," he said. "But due to the venue being outside, [when] acts want to play inside, the downturn in the economy, and less acts touring at this venue capacity, the Mesa Amp is not getting as many shows. In fact, I have booked multiple shows at the Mesa Amp and had to move them to smaller venues due to lack of ticket sales."

As I Mesa taxpayer and a music-lover from the Valley, this is my take: PUT THE VENUE UNDER THE ARTS CENTER'S UMBRELLA ALREADY!

I love Mesa Amphitheatre -- it's a great place to see a show, despite what apparently are lackluster amenities backstage. The city is very lucky to have it, and no other city in the Valley has something that compares at this point. Mesa needs to capitalize on that by giving the space to someone who knows what to do with it and will help it thrive.

Also, spend a couple hundred thousand to upgrade the interior. If Mesa can spend nearly $100 million on a new facility, it can accord a pittance to upgrade an old but well-loved one before it gets deeper in the hole.

Just leave the AC off when Kings of Leon fall far enough to be back after a show or two at Cricket.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar