Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The North Charleston Coliseum Team Celebrates 20 Years
The executives and staffers at the North Charleston Coliseum are in a festive mood this week as the sizable venue reaches its 20th birthday on January 29. The bustling Coliseum offices (nestled near the arena’s north entrance) have been buzzing with activity.
Marketing Manager Alan Coker and Marketing Coordinator Melanie Crowley have been inviting packs of local musicians, media personalities, and longtime staffers to testify about their favorite Coliseum memories over the last two decades. Local news teams from local TV and radio station have been swinging by with cameras and microphones. General Manager Dave Holscher seems almost overwhelmed by the large volume of well-wishers who’ve touched base to express their admiration and praise. It’s an upbeat scene.
“When I hear about performing arts centers in other cities and the difficulties they have, I feel like we can’t possibly have a better situation with the city than we have now,” Holscher tells Metronome Charleston.
“There are long-term relations that develop between us and the agents and the touring folks,” Coker adds. “Operationally, with ticketing and marketing, we often work with the same people. We see the touring folks who work on various tours again and again, and I think they’ve become very comfortable dealing with us. Things fit very well, and I think many of them look forward to returning to North Charleston each time.”
Plans for the construction of the North Charleston Coliseum started back in 1985 when city officials sponsored a study to determine if North Charleston and the Lowcountry could support such a facility. They moved ahead and broke ground in April 1991 on several acres just off of Montague Avenue, near I-26.
“I was with a management company who’d gotten the contract with the city to manage the Coliseum that was in the works,” Holscher remembers. “I had an office back by the old City Hall, but from October 1991 to January 1993, things were in the works. I had to drive down a gravel road to get here, and the only things out here were a few old, condemned trailers. Fortunately, there were no significant delays in the construction of the Coliseum, and that was good because we had to commit to hosting events. We had to put the stake in the ground, so to speak.”
Crews completed the work right on time, and the Coliseum officially opened its doors on January 29, 1993 as a 14,000-seat multi-purpose facility. Within a few years the adjacent North Charleston Convention Center Complex and Performing Arts Center opened for business as well
The first official event at the Coliseum was the World Cup Figure Skating Champions ice skating exhibition. It drew a full house. Other early shows and events at the include concerts by country star Alan Jackson and rock vets the Eagles as well as a Ringling Bros. circus and CSU basketball games.
Before too long, the Coliseum began attracting major touring acts and sporting events. The Coliseum is also the home of the minor league hockey team the South Carolina Stingrays, who began playing there in late 1993.
The early success of the North Charleston Coliseum helped accelerate the economic development of North Charleston in the 1990s and 2000s. The relationship between the Coliseum team and city officials has blossomed and strengthened over the last 20 years.
“I’d say this whether the mayor was sitting here with me or not: we are so blessed to have the people of the City of North Charleston — from Mayor Summey and his staff to the department heads — for their support,” Holscher says. “When Mayor Summey first ran for mayor, he let me know that he didn’t plan to micromanage us in any way. They’ve been 110 percent supportive in every way when needed, but they’ve let us to do what they hired us to do, which was to try put as many programs through here as we can. They’ve financially supported us as necessary, and they’ve been willing to do whatever was necessary from a publicity standpoint, too.”
It also helped put the Lowcountry on the map as a destination for nationally touring musical and comedy acts, many of whom might have veered into the Carolinas, but not anywhere near the Lowcountry.
“When we opened in 1993, the old Carolina Coliseum was the only other Coliseum in the state,” Holscher says. “Then the Colonial Center opened in Columbia and the Bi-Lo Center opened in Greenville. I think our venue is a good size for this market, but still, there are certain shows that pass us by for bigger venues nearby. It’s still a challenge to get those big names because booking agents look at the number of seats in a venue from a business perspective, so they might go for an 18,000-seat arena instead of a 14,000-seat venue like ours.”
Within a few years of opening the Coliseum, the city and Coliseum management group SMG (formerly the Spectacor Management Group) built and opened the adjacent North Charleston Convention Center Complex and Performing Arts Center opened for business as well. SMG stayed steadily busy presenting concerts and events over the last 10 years. They’ll likely expand their calendar as they add another terrace addition near the Coliseum’s north entrance in the next year or two. Additional parking lots and parking decks are also in the works for the surrounding the area.
“We have a very professional crew, and many people in each department have worked together so nearly 20 years, so it’s a well-oiled machine,” Holscher says of his current staff. “Thankfully, there are very few ‘gasp’ moments to pop up, but we feel confident about handling challenges.”
Coker, the man on the front lines of the box office, promotions, and media connections, agrees with Holscher about the family atmosphere of the office. “Our situation seems more like a healthy team than some of the other similar venues in major cities where departments butt heads and there’s a lot of disfunction,” he says. “There are long-term relations that develop between us and the agents and the touring folks, too. Operationally, with ticketing and marketing, we often work with the same people. We see the touring folks who work on various tours again and again, and I think they’ve become very comfortable dealing with us. Things fit very well, and I think many of them look forward to returning to North Charleston each time.”
What do the Coliseum execs know now that they wish they knew back in the early days?
“Well, you can’t make up for a lack of experiences,” Coker says. “You mature as a person, and you mature as a professional. The longer we do it and the more we have under our belts, something that would have seemed like such a struggle or such a mountain to climb 10 years ago isn’t so rough now.”
The next big events on the calendar at the North Charleston Coliseum include two S.C. Stingrays games (on Feb. 8 and 9) and big country music concert on Feb. 14 featuring Rascal Flats, the Band Perry, and Kristen Kelly.
Top photo by Ballard Lesemann. The construction photos below are courtesy of Alan Coker and the North Charleston Coliseum.
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