JPJ a ‘jewel’ – and not just for basketball
Story by Chris Graham
It’s funny to think of now, but the people in charge of planning and designing University Hall actually had it in mind that they were going to end up with an arena that was going to serve many more purposes than simply hosting college-basketball games.
“When you look at when they built this place, the committee that was associated with the design for this had a lot of folks on it from the drama department. So a major part of the focus for this was not about sports. It was about performances,” said Mark Fletcher, an associate athletics director at UVa. who has overseen a slew of athletics-facilities projects at the University in recent years, in an interview for an upcoming book on the history of U Hall, Mad About U, written by Chris Graham and Patrick Hite, which is set for release in October.
“You can see in the aisles that there are lights that are on the steps. That’s only for one reason – when you had a production in here, they could turn on the lights just like in a movie theater,” Fletcher said.
That University Hall, which opened in 1965, fell short of those goals has been obvious for years – never more so than when one gets a gander at the building across the street.
e’re going to be able to have big-time concerts, presidential debates, a circus, a pro-wrestling match, what have you,” said Barry Parkhill, a former basketball star at the University who was instrumental in the effort to bring the John Paul Jones Arena to life, in an interview forMad About U.
JPJ, as some have taken to calling the $130 million arena – The Jack is the name of choice, it appears, among those in local-media circles – opened last week with a performance by the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil. A look at the schedule for the remainder of 2006 bears Parkhill’s observation out – a World Wrestling Entertainment event is on the calendar for next week, with a concert by The Dave Matthews Band and a comedy showcase featuring Larry the Cable Guy set for later on in the year.
The conventional wisdom right now, it seems, is that the state-of-the-art 15,000-seat arena is single-handedly going to transform the Charlottesville entertainment scene – and turn Charlottesville into an entertainment destination on par with, or surpassing, established Old Dominion destinations like Richmond, Roanoke and Hampton Roads.
Another view that is gaining more in the way of acceptance is that the arena instead is the final piece in the puzzle that leaders in Charlottesville and Albemarle set out to solving 20 years ago in terms of trying to make the region an entertainment destination.
“In terms of entertainment venues, it now means that we’ve got some very significant kind of anchor stores in the entertainment area,” said Mark Shore, the director and CEO of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I say that in the sense that if you’re going to visit a mall, and your intent is to go shopping, you probably don’t want just one major department store, you want there to be several anchors,” Shore said.
“Whether you look at that in terms of John Paul Jones Arena and Monticello being anchor stores, or John Paul Jones Arena and The Paramount and The Charlottesville Pavilion being anchor stores, I think you could easily say you’ve got some major facilities that draw. And because they’re all together, they create an incredible synergy,” Shore told The Augusta Free Press.
The Paramount Theater, which reopened in 2004 after an extensive restoration effort, and The Charlottesville Pavilion, which opened in July 2005, both have packed schedules that feature national-level acts themselves – from Bill Cosby and Vince Gill at The Paramount to Bruce Hornsby, Lyle Lovett and The Black Crowes at The Pavilion – in settings that are very much distinct from the larger JPJ.
“There definitely is great variety in what we have to offer here,” said Chad Hershner, the president and CEO of the 1,000-seat Paramount.
“If you want to go to The Pavilion, you can have that kind of experience, an outdoor experience. Or The Paramount can offer world-class artists in a very, very intimate setting – when you’re here to see Paul Anka, Trisha Yearwood, whoever you’re here to see, if you’re in the last row of the theater, you’re seeing them. You’re seeing the expression on their face, and it’s a really incredible experience. And then JPJ offers that Cirque du Soleil high-as-you-can-possibly-go experience with 15,000 people – and that’s awesome, too,” Hershner told the AFP.
Kirby Hutto, the general manager of the 3,500-seat Charlottesville Pavilion, sees the synergy playing out to everybody’s benefit.
“The fact that you begin to establish the area as a destination means folks are going to look at the calendar – and maybe we’ve got a great show on a Saturday night, and John Paul Jones has somebody that Sunday. Or The Paramount has somebody the Friday before. People then decide to stretch it out and make it a longer stay as opposed to just coming for a single show and then turning around and going back,” Hutto told the AFP.
Shore sees something else that is significant – “When you look at the schedules, what stands out is that there’s something for everybody and every lifestyle.”
“The folks at all three work really hard to try to reach multiple audiences,” Shore said.
“They try to offer a great selection – and in an already thriving community, people can come and experience an event like what will happen at the John Paul Jones Arena or The Pavilion or The Paramount, which normally take place in the evening – but they also know that there are plenty of things to do during the day. There’s shopping and dining on the Downtown Mall, there are the wineries out into the Albemarle countryside, they can visit historic sites,” Shore said.
“All of that adds up to make it a great trip – whereas some other localities, people may say, Well, we’ll go in for the show and maybe spend the night. Whereas here, it’s a full experience of a trip to Charlottesville, with the full experience of things that they can do and see while they’re here,” Shore said.
That’s not to dismiss the impact that the John Paul Jones Arena itself is expected to have on the Charlottesville-Albemarle economy. According to Tim Hulbert, the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the arena is expected to have as much as a $20 million fiscal impact on Charlottesville, Albemarle and surrounding areas in its first year of operations.
“The arena is absolutely a jewel,” Hulbert told the AFP. “It’s the best house in Virginia. It’s a defining attraction for Charlottesville. And before the 3,500 hotel rooms that we have in the Charlottesville-Albemarle region get full, some smart people will say, Let’s stay in Waynesboro. Let’s stay in Staunton. Let’s stay in Culpeper. So it’s going to have an impact on the broader region.”
It’s a long way from the days when University Hall fell silent in the spring, summer and fall in between the times of year when the sound of basketballs otherwise filled the air – that’s for sure.
“U Hall, when I was in school, we did have some pretty big-time concerts, but a big-name entertainer is not going to come to University Hall,” Parkhill said in his interview for Mad About U.“They will come to the John Paul Jones Arena, though. So we’ve got a lot of advantages that go beyond basketball,” Parkhill said.