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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 20, 200312:00 PM EST

Arena suites 'selling themselves'

by: Richard Prior

by Richard Prior

Staff Writer

To hear Shawn Hegan tell it, executive suites at the new arena have practically sold themselves.

Since the 28 suites went on sale in mid-February, “about a dozen” have been bought — some by individuals, most by companies, said Hegan, sales manager for SMG.

“We’re doing extremely well,” he said. “And we’ve done it with zero advertising. They’ve sold generally through word of mouth and a little direct mail.”

Along with a bird’s-eye view of the action, “skybox” owners receive 12 tickets and three parking passes to every event. Suites come equipped with a sitting area, couch, chairs, wet bar and a color television monitor.

“The suites are right above the main concourse, and you’re literally right on top of the action,” said Hegan.

The cost is $50,000 a year with a five-year commitment, he said.

“We did a lot of research and we feel this is an extremely affordable price,” he added. Purchasers “get a tremendous amount of value because, for a reasonable rate, they will be right there for all of the marquee events and concerts that will be coming in.”

If anything, interest in the luxury boxes is accelerating, Hegan said.

“We don’t open until mid-November,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of interest in the arena and now that it’s getting closer to reality, people are focusing a little better.”

SMG has also sold about two-thirds of the 1,100 club seats that have been placed in three sections on the main concourse along the building’s south side. Hegan expects they will all be sold out “in the next few weeks.”

Customers buy a “seat license” for $300 a year. Although that does not include the price of tickets, it does ensure that “hot” tickets will be available when events are announced.

“When Elton John or Bruce Springsteen sell out in an hour, you won’t have to worry about standing in line or going on line to get a ticket,” said Hegan. “This guarantees you will be able to purchase tickets.”

Total seating in the arena, at 300 A. Philip Randolph Blvd., will vary according to the performance.

“Every show stages differently,” said Hegan. “The arena will seat 16,000 for a center-staged concert. Hockey will probably seat around 13,000; basketball will be in the 14,000 range.”

It’s still too early to tell how many performances the arena will host, but Hegan pointed out that the Coliseum drew 80 events last year.

“In a new arena,” he said, “we can probably expect upwards of 100, including hockey [the Jacksonville Barracudas], circuses and family shows.”

The NCAA has already announced it will hold the first two rounds of the 2006 tournament in the arena.

“There’s no question we’ll attract major concerts and touring acts,” said Hegan. “A show that plays in Atlanta one night and is scheduled to be in Orlando has to go right through Jacksonville. It’ll stop here.”

Hegan believes there are two reasons for so much enthusiasm about the arena and its amenities.

“One is the homework we did on our pricing,” he said. “We arrived at a price point that is very affordable in this area.

“Plus, people are just excited about what is happening in downtown Jacksonville. Promoters are going to start bringing in some of their biggest acts. And getting the NCAA tournament was a huge coup for Jacksonville.

“There’s a lot of excitement about what’s going on.”

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