published Thursday, June 6th, 2013

City Beat: No easy decisions on Tivoli, auditorium

Apparently the city of Chattanooga is looking at what to do with the Tivoli Theatre and Memorial Auditorium.

The options are: sell them, continue to own and operate them under city management, or find an outside agency to run them. There doesn't appear to be an easy answer.

It's interesting that as the city appears to be experiencing somewhat of a renaissance when it comes to live entertainment, particularly live music, that two of its largest venues are being looked at as trouble spots.

But perception is reality, and the facts are the venues are expensive to maintain and operate, costing more to operate than they bring in, according to some reports.

The larger of the two buildings is actually called the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. That first part gets left off and overlooked sometimes. It needs a new roof, and the city has allocated $785,000 for that.

Both are beautiful places to watch a show, as long as you don't look too close. Both show their ages, with the Tivoli having opened in 1921 and the auditorium in 1924. The Robert Kirk Walker Community Theatre upstairs at the auditorium recently underwent a renovation, but there is work to be done in the building.

You might think that with all of the great concerts we've gotten in town in the last year or two, all one would have to do is put someone in place who knows good music and tell him to fill up the two venues.

People have tried that for years. Not every act works in either building, and not every fan wants to sit in an assigned seat and watch certain acts. Sometimes you want to stand, or dance, up close to the stage with an adult beverage in your hand.

Plus, the "green room" areas need to be updated. Entertainers are people too, and they like nice creature comforts like everyone else.

The market or musical landscape has changed over the years. Very few bands do large arena shows anymore, and not an awful lot play venues the size of the 3,800-seat auditorium or even the smaller 1,700-seat Tivoli. Shows are expensive to produce, which makes ticket prices high as well.

Still, both of those buildings are used for much more than rock concerts. The Tivoli is home to the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. The auditorium hosts numerous high school graduations every year, and both book plays, musicals and dramas on a local and touring level.

All of these are important to us as a city, and they bring revenue beyond ticket sales.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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