Huntington Center continues to draw patrons, A-level shows

(Article and images originally published on the Toledo Blade's site - Original Post - By Rod Lockwood - Blade Staff Writer)

TOLEDO, OH - October 4, 2011 - It's safe to say that there will be no terrible 2s for the Huntington Center, downtown Toledo's showcase arena for concerts, hockey, and family entertainment.

As the arena reaches the 2-year-old mark this month, other than a few complaints about the seats being too close together and small for larger-sized people, the arena has been an inarguable success story. It regularly draws acts that previously treated the city like a convenient place to fly over and has attracted positive national attention in the concert industry.

Geddy Lee performs with the band Rush at the Huntington Center. - THE BLADE
Geddy Lee performs with the band Rush at the Huntington Center. - THE BLADE  

"It's been extremely successful," said Michael Belkin, senior vice president for nationwide concert promoter Live Nation. "It sounds trite, but it's the proverbial, 'If you build it they will come,' and the city was lacking a quality venue for A-level acts."

"[There are] good vibes at the Huntington Center," said independent promoter John Nittolo of JNP Productions, who has promoted several concerts at the arena, including Steve Miller and Gregg Allman. "I enjoy working there. I wish I could do more shows there."

The success of the center isn't based solely on perception: Venues Today, a publication that tracks the concert industry, earlier this year listed it as the No. 1 venue among midwest concert sites for ticket sales in the 5,001 to 10,000-seat capacity category, with $6,717,517 in ticket sales in 2010.

Also this year, the Huntington Center was ranked in the top 100 of all size venues in the July issue of the concert industry magazine Pollstar. The arena was ranked No. 98, based on the number of tickets sold to events from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year.

Suffice to say, the much-maligned Sports Arena, which was torn down in 2007, wasn't receiving similar accolades in its later years. The Huntington Center has attracted acts such as Elton John, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, the Eagles, Carrie Underwood, and Michael Buble, the kind of artists who expect to play in upscale venues with modern amenities, something the old arena on the banks of the Maumee River sorely lacked.

The Huntington's success has been part of a general uptick in concerts this year, with artists like Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Todd Rundgren, Sheryl Crow, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and numerous others playing at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, the newly renovated Centennial Terrace, and the Stranahan Theater.

Stevie Nicks at the Huntington Center. - THE BLADE
Stevie Nicks at the Huntington Center. - THE BLADE  

Nittolo said there may be a ripple effect from the success of the Huntington, but he's not sure.

"Let me put it this way: It didn't hurt. The Huntington Center has been proven to sell tickets, which makes for a positive vibe in town. It doesn't hurt that all of a sudden the Eagles are playing Toledo, Elton John is playing in Toledo, so it might have opened the door a little bit."

Steve Miller, general manager of SMG, which manages the Huntington Center, attributed the arena's success to market considerations.

"I think that the market's been starved for entertainment locally. People were conditioned to go to Detroit or Cleveland or Columbus and they're glad to have something in their backyard," he said.

The biggest challenge the arena faces in the near future is navigating a tough economy and securing acts that draw large crowds, while also bringing in events like the circus, monster truck shows, and of course, Walleye hockey that keep the arena humming.

Miller said the arena averaged 105 events a year in its first two years of operating. The Walleye drew 226,575 in the 2009-2010 season and 214,311 in the 2010-2011 season.

This season the team is off to a good start in terms of ticket sales, which is good news for Miller and SMG. Jason Griffin, director of public and media relations for the Walleye, said more than 100,000 tickets have been sold for the upcoming season, which is up 2 percent from last year.



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