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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 28, 200312:00 PM EST

Is city shedding 'walk-up' label?

by: Bailey White

by Bailey White

Staff Writer

Bruce Springsteen will be in Jacksonville March 4, but unless you are one of the 9,000 fans who got a ticket within the hour or so before the concert sold out, you’ll have to listen to his latest album at home.

Springsteen’s sellout, along with a host of other big name acts, including Norah Jones, Elton John and Cher, who sold out in a matter of a few hours, seems to speak to Jacksonville’s changing reputation. Long thought of as a “walk-up” town, the city has lost big name shows in the past because of a lack of advance ticket sales and has failed to attract the top acts who instead flock to Atlanta, Tampa and Orlando. But some industry sources say that image is beginning to fade.

“I think we’ve seen more shows over the years sell more tickets coming out of the box,” said Robin Timothy, assistant general manager for SMG Marketing, the company that promotes venues such as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and T-U Center. “It could have been a hindrance in the past, but I think now more people are buying tickets when they go on sale.”

Tickets to both the Springsteen show and the Cher concert on Valentine’s Day were sold in a matter of minutes. Seats for the Jones (who won five Grammy Awards last week for her debut album) concert at the Florida Theatre were reportedly gone by the end of the opening day of sales.

“When we first started we were definitely more of a last minute, walk-up town,” said Linda Lee, the box office manager for the Florida Theatre for 17 years. “It’s been a couple of years since it’s happened here, but shows have been pulled because of a lack in ticket sales before.”

The Florida Theatre box office has been a Ticketmaster outlet for about 10 years now, and Lee said the new technology has increasingly made ticket sales easier.

“People are learning that if they want the best shows to come here, they need to buy early,” she said. “And now, with people being able to order tickets online, there are a lot more early sales. I think the industry is really gearing up for that and it will be a few years down the road before it takes over, but online sales are what people are doing now.”

The city’s ability to sell out a concert so quickly is something that national booking agencies also have noticed.

John Stoll, owner and president of Fantasma Productions, the company promoting Springsteen and a Willie Nelson concert at the Freebird Cafe in Jacksonville Beach, said he’s seen Jacksonville develop more of an appetite for large acts since he founded Fantasma Productions 25 years ago.

And he’s certain the new arena will also spur Jacksonville’s success in bringing big-name acts such as Springsteen to local audiences.

“We’ll continue to do shows in Jacksonville and you’ll get a lot more shows with the new arena,” he said.

Though current venue conditions aren’t what they should be, Stoll said the decision to book a Springsteen show in Jacksonville has little to do with the city being a great place to stage a concert and more to do with Springsteen’s touring schedule.

“You have the worst building in America,” he said of the Coliseum. “But it was a routing thing and it made sense for us to make a stop in Jacksonville. It sold out instantly, so it was a smart move.”

SMG staffers, who will handle marketing for the new arena when it’s complete in November, are busy promoting what they are sure will attract the music industry to Jacksonville in even greater numbers. The arena will have a seating capacity of up to 16,000, almost double the amount of available space at the Coliseum. The $130 million facility will also have 28 suites, four party suites and 11 ticket windows.

“We’re letting promoters, agents, record labels all know that there will be a new arena in Jacksonville,” said Timothy. “We’ll be the first stop into Florida.”

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