Loss-making arena pins hopes on Dylan

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2014
 Armageddon Expo
Nick Reed/Fairfax NZ

CLAUDELANDS CROWD: Thousands of punters visited Claudelands Events Centre for the Armageddon Expo on the weekend. Pre-booked ticket sales were up 20 per cent on previous years.

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Bob Dylan's one-off Hamilton concert could mark a turning point for the city with Claudelands Arena tipped to play host to other top international acts.

Dylan will launch his Australasian tour in Hamilton on August 9 and already music aficionados predict other big names will follow the folk legend and perform at Claudelands.

Hamilton City Council's events and economic development general manager Sean Murray said Dylan's upcoming show was a "major coup" and reflected Claudelands Arena's reputation as one of the best boutique performance arenas in the southern hemisphere.

"We're aware both Louis Armstrong and BB King have previously performed in Hamilton, but Bob Dylan is one of popular culture's legends, and to have him performing here in Hamilton will be historic," Murray said.

"Although Auckland is often the first choice, especially for large one-off shows, we will continue developing Claudelands' reputation as a world-class concert venue."

Hamilton Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman said Dylan's decision to start his Australasian tour in Hamilton was "a fantastic endorsement" of the Claudelands Events Centre and opened up the possibility of more big acts visiting Hamilton.

It typically took three or four years for an events centre to establish itself in the market and Dylan's concert would encourage other Australasian promoters to consider Claudelands, Chesterman said.

The $68.4 million redevelopment of Claudelands was completed in 2011.

The venue features a 6000-capacity entertainment arena, a four-star conference centre and exhibition space.

"The problem with Claudelands was it was fully debt-funded and at some point getting the debt down has to be an absolute target so the more events we can get there, the more spectacular Claudelands' financial results will become," Chesterman said.

"The positive things we're starting to hear relate to the operational side of things. Some people still complain about Claudelands but it's diminishing as people realise how exciting the city has become by having these top internationals shows come here."

The venue will host Disney on Ice's Treasure Trove in July.

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive Kiri Goulter said the Dylan concert was an excellent opportunity to attract Dylan fans from across the North Island to Hamilton.

There was an opportunity to encourage concert-goers to extend their stay in the region.

Murray said Claudelands' current revenue to expenditure ratio was consistent with other similar venues in the industry across Australasia, but the council continued to drive for more revenue growth.

Hamilton musician Alex Deane said he had listened to Dylan since the late 1960s but was yet to see him live.

Deane, 64, predicted the Hamilton concert would sell out quickly and expected ticket demand to be strong from Dylan-starved Aucklanders.

Dylan's world tour skips Auckland.

"If the promoter makes money from this, which means selling out Claudelands, then that will go very well for future big concerts in Hamilton," Deane said.

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David Shearer, managing director of Shearer's Music Works in Hamilton, said Dylan appealed to all age groups.

Although Claudelands Arena was designed as a multi-functional arena, there was no reason why it could not serve as a premium music venue, Shearer said.

"They can do some pretty amazing stuff with PAs and all the hi-tech stuff, so I can't see why they can't get it sounding amazing at Claudelands."

Hamilton Residents and Ratepayers Association president Rod Bowman said the Dylan concert was a "feel-good distraction" and any revenue generated would be minimal compared with the millions of dollars council spent redeveloping the venue.

The city's best option would be to sell the centre to an overseas buyer.

"Council keep saying things at Claudelands are picking up but it's not enough to cover the losses. If you put Claudelands in the Beijing Bugle or something like that, you'd easily get a buyer willing to pay $200m for it," Bowman said.

- Waikato Times

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