Why music venues are spending millions on renovations

To support elaborate concerts like Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour, music venue owners are rethinking their commercial real estate

May 10, 2019

Music concerts are getting increasingly more extravagant and expensive, a testament to their importance for performers who now rely heavily on ticket sales compared to selling albums. With adoring fans hooked on music-streaming services, a good show has never been more important.

Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour — which had VIP tickets that sold for as much as US $1,995 — featured an enormous bridge that extended out over the audience. Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour touted an inflatable python that rose up at center stage during “Look What You Made Me Do.” Elton John’s final Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour featured a custom curved stage backed by gigantic LED screen flanked by nine custom bas relief sculptures of icons who influenced his music.

To catch up with the demand for venues that can cater to these larger-than-life performances, music venue owners are spending millions on renovations, new locations, and the guest experience.

Live Nation partnered with the owners of Philadelphia’s former Metropolitan Opera House on a US$56 million renovation of its historic, 3,400-seat auditorium. The renovation of Ameris Bank Amphitheatre near Atlanta was a $35 million project.

“Renovations need to beef up the infrastructure so that they can handle the increasing volume of concert goers at these events,” says Sandy Fitzgerald of JLL’s Project and Development Services team in Atlanta. “There’s a lot of focus on enhancing the guest experience while maximizing profits for the client. That means both infrastructure and amenity improvements.”

Wining and dining

A significant portion of investment in concert venue projects goes towards installing bars, restrooms, and VIP areas. The latter has become particularly important for revenue streams.

At the former Metropolitan Opera house in Philadelphia, VIPs enjoy an exclusive menu prepared by James Beard Award-winning Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix. Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl has its own James Beard winner-in-residence, Suzanne Goin, who prepares custom dinner menus packed as picnics for box seat holders.  

But renovation dollars also go to less flashy technicalities. Often, upgrading the electrical grids, plumbing, and HVAC systems, especially in older venues needing renovations, are a top priority, Fitzgerald says.

Reimagining the space

Some music venue renovations are so holistic that they leave the space barely recognizable. 

The Chastain Amphitheater, Atlanta’s oldest outdoor music venue, dates back to 1944. A $6 million renovation exchanged the old restrooms for air-conditioned facilities double the size. Wheelchair accessible seating and elevators went in around the stage area, and a completely revamped plaza area to offer a space for meet-and-greets with the stars, corporate events, and vendors before shows. And in keeping with that need to keep up with artists’ demands, the stage height was raised six-and-a-half feet to accommodate those elaborate setups.

At the Met Philadelphia, a wholesale remodel allowed the venue to retain its ornate, historic aesthetic, while becoming more versatile: The theater can shrink its capacity for more intimate shows by curtaining off sections, or even remove floor seats for standing-room only shows, as it did for a Weezer concert.

Flying pop stars

Just as important are upgrades that cater to the artists, whose shows require a lot of heavy equipment for dazzling the crowd.

Bigger musical artists often arrive with multiple tractor-trailers full of equipment for elaborate light shows; LED screens for interactive video projections audiences can control via apps and wristbands; smoke and pyrotechnics; and enormous catwalks that extend into the crowd.

Where a 30-foot stage clearance used to be sufficient, a 50-foot stage clearance has become standard, according to Fitzgerald.

Atlanta’s Turner Field, which housed the Braves until the end of the 2016 season, lacked the necessary height clearance, so acts arriving had to unload equipment from larger trucks into multiple smaller trucks both for set up and break down.

When the Braves moved to Suntrust Park, the new venue solved many of the problems the old one presented and required many changes that are now becoming standard in all concert venue development processes.

Commercial real estate professionals can benefit from listening to artists’ needs, and vice versa, Fitzgerald found. 

“They know their business better than we do, and we know ours better than they do,” she says. “Concert venue renovations require that commercial real estate professionals stay focused on the needs of the artists, the operators, and the fans.”