A Crowning Achievement | By Nathan Walls
02/01/2008 06:10PM ● Published by Anonymous
The Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center, which turned 20 in 2007, and the Crown Arena and Theatre, which turned 40, were part of that milestone also.
George Breece, who was chairman of the Cumberland County Democratic Party, and Jim Cooper, then chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Party, united to form the Vision ’96 Committee to help the Cumberland County Civic Center Commission gain public support to build the Crown Coliseum.
“I was asked to put together a group of citizens, and I had discussions with Jim … We were in agreement that building the Crown Coliseum was the right thing to do for the community,” Breece said. “So, we decided that we would co-chair the Vision ’96 committee, and we worked in Raleigh on the legislation that was needed, set up public hearings and public meetings at places like Fayetteville Technical Community College, and we became good and dear friends through the process. We had a wonderful group of people working on the Vision ’96 Committee.”
Cooper said, “We agreed that we needed a coliseum and worked together on it. It was an undertaking of individuals, not as chairmen of parties.”
Supporters of the coliseum felt that Fayetteville, a bustling city, needed a new entertainment center so that people would not have to go to Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh to attend events.
“We are a culturally diverse community, and if you want to grow a town you have to have a cultural center. The Crown Coliseum brings all kinds of entertainment for our different cultures,” said Marshall Waren, a Cumberland County Civic Center Commission member when the coliseum opened.
Rick Reno, former Crown CEO, and staff – including Paul Beard, interim CEO and general manager/chief operating officer – have brought in a variety of acts, from gospel to hip-hop to country to children’s shows to Community Concert performers like Wayne Newton and Kenny Rogers. Among others who have performed at the coliseum since it opened have been Kenneth Copeland, Chris Brown, Bill Gaither Homecoming, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Lynard Skynard, Blue Man Group, Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, and Larry the Cable Guy. Also featured have been Broadway shows, wrestling and the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The Cape Fear Wildcats and Fayetteville Guard football teams, Fayetteville Patriots basketball team and the Fayetteville Force and Fayetteville FireAntz hockey teams have competed at the Crown Coliseum and experienced success in different leagues. The Fayetteville Guard won the championship of the National Indoor Football League, and the Fayetteville FireAntz won the Southern Professional Hockey League title in 2007.
“We have established stability in the professional sports teams in the areas of hockey and indoor football,” said Reno in an interview conducted before he left to become general manager of the Randy Parton Theatre in Roanoke Rapids. “Even though there have been changes in ownership, and even leagues, the coliseum has been able to maintain the client in these cases and continue to provide professional sporting activities for the community of Fayetteville.”
Arena Ventures Deal
The Fayetteville Patriots were a part of an Arena Ventures deal between the National Basketball Association, which was forming a developmental league eventually known as the “D” league, and SFX Entertainment, which eventually became Clear Channel and later Live Nation. The intent was to pair the largest provider of live entertainment in the world with one of the most prestigious professional sports organizations in the country and bring them to smaller markets.
Arena Ventures never delivered the number of acts called for in its contract. The East Coast portion of the “D” league never really got off the ground, and the focus of the NBA shifted to private ownership of the teams. Prior to that, the NBA owned all the teams in the “D” league. Finally, all of the original East Coast teams folded or moved to other markets, and the deal officially ended in 2006 after the Patriots had played for five years.
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The Crown Rebounds
Despite those setbacks, more acts were coming to the Crown. The Guard and FireAntz made it into the postseason, preparing the teams for championships in 2007.
The Crown started to see dividends that grew and enhanced the anniversary celebration.
“That celebration coupled with the confluence of over five years of aggressively promoting and marketing our facility to the tour managers, artists themselves, agencies and concert promoters resulted in the most successful year ever in terms of number of events and excitement in the Crown Center,” Reno said. “We have been able, through this aggressive recruiting posture, to put the Crown Center on the radar screen of the powers that be that determine where these acts decide to play.”
“If you take a look at the acts we have been able to bring to the Crown, we are getting good use of all four of our facilities,” said John Elliott, chairman of the Cumberland County Civic Center Commission for 2007. “That feels good to give a lot of acts to the citizens of Cumberland County.”
Bob Smith, chairman of the commission during the building of the coliseum and the current vice chairman, is impressed with the quality of events at the Crown.
“The Crown Coliseum is one of the most dynamic things Cumberland County has ever done,” Smith said. “I think that we will only go up, with the new number of shows we are bringing in and support of the public. We are trying to get more people to support the Crown, because they no longer have to go out of town – they can enjoy great entertainment in Fayetteville.”
Phase one of the renovation of the theater and arena, which addressed infrastructure concerns, is complete. The acoustics of the arena has been improved to the point that Keith Urban’s sound manager said it was the best on the singer’s tour the year he appeared here. All of the dressing rooms and catering areas downstairs in the arena have been redone, the lobby of the theater with the beautiful atrium is complete, and easily accessible restrooms have been added to accommodate both the arena and theater guests.
“Seeing the three electronic marquees light up each day with the multitude of events coming to the Crown Center is very gratifying,” Reno said.
The Crown has made improvements in the area of concessions, always in demand at events.
“We just entered into an agreement with Centerplate, which allows us to offer a more varied menu of concession items to our guests as well as more customer-friendly environment for those guests,” Reno said. “In addition, with the installation of an ATM machine and the ability to accept credit cards, the coliseum concession staff will be able to service our guests more effectively and efficiently, which will result in higher revenues for the coliseum.”
Following 9/11, the Crown held a free Lee Greenwood concert in honor of military men and women. Old Glory waved behind Greenwood while he was singing “God Bless the USA.”
“After that, we got to work and began forming the nucleus of a dedicated, hard- working, positive staff,” Reno said. “Until 2006, I was the only staff member that had ever worked in another facility. We have employed professional event-management staff, we have been able to attract professionals from other markets and facilities to manage our ticketing operation, sales and marketing department and operations department. The accomplishment that brings me the most gratification is taking that nucleus of local hard-working people and now adding professionals to come in from larger markets to assist the Crown Center in its goal of becoming the ‘Entertainment Hub of Southeastern North Carolina.’”
Future of the Crown Center
The Crown Center is in experienced hands with Beard. A lifelong Fayetteville resident, Beard joined the Crown Center in 1995 during the construction of the coliseum. He has held the positions of operations manager, director of operations and chief operating officer and was named interim general manager after the resignation of Reno.
“We are very fortunate to have someone like Paul on staff ready to step up on an interim basis during this transition,” Elliott said. “He has been a tremendous asset to our facility. He’s helped to create and maintain a first-class facility while becoming a trusted executive in our industry.”
“I am very confident that we have established the foundation for a very easy transition in management of the Crown Center as evidenced by the appointment, at my recommendation, of Paul Beard… to interim chief executive officer,” Reno said. “I am a firm believer of promoting qualified staff from within the ranks of existing staff. With Paul’s stewardship, I see only good things for the Crown Center in the future if the community support and the support provided by the county commissioners continue to grow.”
“While I am saddened to see Rick leave, I know the Crown Center will continue our mission to be the heart of entertainment for southeastern North Carolina. I am fortunate to have a strong and dedicated staff, who will give 100 percent during this transition,” Beard said. “I believe the Crown Center is on the cusp of greatness, and I am excited about our future.”