New Merriweather management

October 15, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Merriweather Post Pavilion, the struggling Columbia concert amphitheater faced with an uncertain future because of plans to develop adjacent land, will be managed next year by Bethesda-based I.M.P. Inc.

The Rouse Co., the Columbia developer that owns Merriweather, hired I.M.P. to manage the amphitheater for the 2004 season, replacing Clear Channel Entertainment Inc. I.M.P. also owns the 9:30 Club in Washington.

"I predict that we'll give them the best chance we can," Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of I.M.P., said yesterday. "My intent is to do the best shows we can at Merriweather."

The structure of Merriweather - built in 1967 as one of Columbia's first amenities - will also eventually change. Rouse announced in July that the company will convert the amphitheater into a smaller, enclosed year-round theater, explaining it was no longer profitable.

The amphitheater's future had been in question as Rouse is seeking approval to proceed with residential, commercial and office development in the area surrounding Merriweather.

Rouse has not indicated when that change will occur, and Hurwitz said he didn't think Rouse has any "firm plans" about the theater's conversion.

"My interest is whatever their interest is," Hurwitz said.

Bob Rubenkonig, Rouse's communications director, said I.M.P. will be integral in the planning of Merriweather's future. "We think that I.M.P. has a very special set of skills promoting concerts as well as theater productions," he said. "As the Rouse Co. looks to the future of Merriweather as a performing arts center for the region, we think it's a perfect fit."

I.M.P. has previously worked with Merriweather, booking acts there throughout a five-year contract that ended in 2002 and began with the venue's past manager, the Nederlander Organization. The company bought the 9:30 Club in 1986, moving it to a new location in Washington in 1996.

SFX Entertainment Inc. - which was acquired by Clear Channel in 2000 - began managing Merriweather in 1999.

Clear Channel - which also manages the 25,000-capacity Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va. - booked 19 shows at Merriweather this season.

County Councilman Ken Ulman, a West Columbia Democrat who had previously called the 19 shows at Merriweather "an embarrassment," said yesterday that the change in the venue's management signifies Rouse's desire to want it to be successful.

"I'm very excited about it," Ulman said. " ... I'm convinced that [Hurwitz] wants to see Merriweather succeed and be an even stronger asset for Columbia and for Howard County."

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