The August Entertainment Complex, which includes the James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium, has over 20,000 tickets sold for upcoming events, according to Chris Bird, General Manager of the complex.
The JBA and Bell Auditorium average around 100 dates a year, making the venues economic drivers for businesses downtown and beyond. Even suburbs in Columbia County feel the love.
“Grovetown, Martinez, Evans-a ticket buyer there is eating dinner at restaurants there so they don’t have to fight downtown restaurant seating and waits,” said Bird.
Downtown is the F&B capital of Augusta, with over twenty restaurants up and down Broad and Reynolds Streets,. The industry has come to rely on shows at the multiple venues dotting the entertainment district, including the Imperial and Miller theaters, to supply a steady stream of paying customers.
When a show is being held, downtown restaurants can expect a significant bump in business. According to Kenny Morrison, who, along with his brother Bobby, own both the Whiskey Bar and Metro Coffeehouse, the Whiskey Bar Kitchen can see upwards of a 25% impact to their bottom line “depending on the show,” Morrison said.
“Especially when it is at the Miller,” Morrision said. “Shows that tend to happen there are more in our wheelhouse.” Morrison says they see a dramatic lift in our sales on those nights. “We’ll start seeing an influx of people coming in around 4:30 and by 5:00, and we’ll be slammed until showtime. So around 8.”
Morrison said when the JBA has events like Guitar Pull and larger country concerts, they are very busy.
“When I make my weekly schedule, I schedule extra staff on show nights,” Morrison said, adding that he is sure to have his A-team on the floor. “I keep up with the calendar of events for the Imperial, the Miller, the JBA and the Bell Auditorium, so I know what is going on each day.”
Morrison, who is currently closed at both businesses he owns, went on to say, “Honestly, just from someone who has been around downtown for over twenty years, the quality of shows recently, at all the venues, they’ve taken it up a few notches. Back in the old days, we got ‘C’ class events, and some of those were just laughable. We didn’t ever see any difference. But now, the quality and the frequency of events has taken a real uptick.”
Yet, as Bird sees it, getting the people back in seats is a ways off. “I don’t see things getting back to normal for a while,” Bird said. “We’ve got a lot of shows that are hoping to play in August, but the outlook right now based on the information we currently have, those people are looking to move either into October or 2021.”
Bird explained that the venues themselves are essentially in the brokerage business. As such, they are not able to dictate the market, merely serve the market that exists. “You have to look at it like it like this,” Bird shared. “It is all dependent on the artist and the ticket buyer. We are all middle people. How is the artist connecting with the fan? If the artist doesn’t feel comfortable to get on a bus, they aren’t going out. If a fan doesn’t feel safe to go to a show, they aren’t buying tickets. One cannot happen without the other.”
Yet, as they say, the show must go on. The Richmond County Board of Education announced this week they hope to have graduation as scheduled May 26 through May 28 at the James Brown Arena. The BOE also reserved alternate dates in June and July just in case May doesn’t work out.
With this information in mind, arena staff has been looking at how social distancing could impact events held at the JBA. “We are going through exercises now,” Bird relayed. “What do different capacities look like?” The arena staff is studying how using social distancing shrinks a 6,000 seat arena.
As with everything else currently, the situation is fluid. Only time will tell when the venues in Augusta are back in action, providing fuel to the economic engine of the CSRA.