U plans to revamp Northrop to attract big-name concerts

by Sam Kean

University officials decided if Northrop Auditorium wants to be a big-time concert venue, it’s going to have to start looking like one.

A pending contract between Northrop and independent promoter Jam Productions Limited will soon bring up to 30 profitable concerts and shows to the University each year. Officials estimate the contract will bring $1.3 million to the University.

But the 70-year-old space lacks modern amenities and has only had “Band-Aid” renovations in its past, said Eric Kruse, vice president for University services.

So, a $25 million capital request to add a V.I.P. lounge, guaranteed parking, improved air quality and a revamped electrical system will be sent to the Legislature in spring 2002.

This will be the first major renovation in the building’s history, and the University must assume one-third of its cost over a 20- to 30-year period.

With new faces on campus attending shows, the University is trying to make a better experience out of what Kruse said is often “the only direct contact people have with the University.”

For future events, ticket holders can purchase guaranteed parking passes and shuttle to Northrop, said Philip McDonald, associate vice president for University services. This program could begin as soon as crews finish the River Road parking ramp in 2002.

The V.I.P. lounge will replace a classroom on the third floor and will be available to corporate and individual sponsors, McDonald said.

The building runs a debt of approximately $570,000 each year because the roughly 50 ceremonial and cultural events occurring at the auditorium generally do not turn profits. Currently, the dozen big-name shows at Northrop each year are the only ones bringing in revenue. Jam plans to increase the number of these shows.

Under the contract, ceremonial and cultural events will have top booking priority. Because these events typically book nine months to a year in advance while large music shows only give six months notice, Kruse did not anticipate conflicts that might squeeze out University shows.

Dale Schatzlein, Northrop concert and lecture director, declined to comment on the contract.

In the Twin Cities, Jam Productions produces between 50 and 100 shows each year in venues of all sizes. The musical acts it sponsors are similarly varied.

But the bigger, more profitable acts coming through Northrop will mostly be amplified shows, said McDonald, because in its site survey the University discovered “even significant improvements in natural acoustics wouldn’t serve the quality expectations people have.”


Sam Kean welcomes comments at [email protected]