Merriweather concert lease goes to SFX

Top U.S. promoter expected to present more big-name acts

Entertainment

March 23, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, one of the region's most popular entertainment venues, has a new lease agreement with New York-based SFX Entertainment Inc., the largest concert promoter in the country.

Officials from the Rouse Co., Merriweather's landlord and owner, said the lease acquisition could mean more concerts at the 15,000-capacity amphitheater and draw bigger acts during this summer's concert series, which lasts from the end of May until the end of September.

The open-air concert hall opened in 1967 and has played host to such popular acts as Elton John and Jimmy Buffett, though some groups -- such as Pearl Jam and the Eagles -- have refused to perform there, opting instead for bigger paydays at the 25,000-seat Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va.

Since SFX manages 83 venues around the country, including the Nissan Pavilion, booking larger acts should be less of a problem, said Alton Scavo, Rouse Co. senior vice president.

The new lease arrangement "is very exciting. We're very hopeful that SFX will be able to bring some synergy between Merriweather and the Nissan Pavilion and will be able to book acts between the two venues," Scavo said.

"Merriweather is as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger," he said. "In my assessment, it's certainly one of the few tourist spots in Howard County. I think it will make it more beneficial for booking if Merriweather and Nissan have the same operator. This way, we would pick up the Baltimore side of the business" while Nissan will probably get the Washington and Northern Virginia clientele.

"For certain big-name acts, this arrangement may be a very convenient way to hit the Baltimore-Washington corridor," he said. "They can also book shows all over the country with SFX, and this [Merriweather] will be one of their stops."

SFX purchased the Merriweather lease late last week from the New York-based Nederlander organization, which had managed the pavilion since 1974. SFX paid $94 million for seven Nederlander properties including Merriweather and other similar-size venues in Chicago, Cincinnati and Albuquerque, N.M.

Shares in SFX lost $1.25 yesterday to close at $58.25 on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

According to the company, SFX produced or promoted 12,650 events in 31 of the top 50 markets in the United States last year. As many as 37 million people saw shows at SFX-run venues.

Timothy J. Klahs, spokesman for SFX, said the company will offer concertgoers a broader range of ticket prices at Merriweather.

"We hope to be able to lower the median ticket price and get a higher average attendance at each event," he said. "That way, we hope to make concert-going more exciting and offer more up-and-coming groups."

Klahs said SFX has no immediate plans to renovate Merriweather, but said the company will make the "amphitheater more attractive at some point."

SFX will also try to book a more diverse lineup of musicians to perform at the pavilion.

"We're going to be proactive by encouraging artists to book with us, because they know that we own so many other venues," Klahs said. "We're looking for the broadest range of musical acts possible -- from rap to James Taylor."

Joe Merke, a representative from the Columbia Council's Town Center village, said, "the Columbia community is usually very interested in what the concerts will be in the summer, and there's no real concern about Merriweather at all.

"There was one instance last year where there was a huge crowd and it caused a lot of traffic," Merke said.

"But the concerts have never seemed to be that big. If they're expanded, that could be a concern, but I still think it's an asset to the community and always will be."

Pub Date: 3/23/99

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