Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Welcome to the Club

by Anna Scott

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - On a recent morning, sparks flew as construction workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on Club Nokia, a 2,350-capacity concert venue that is the latest addition to the $2.5 billion L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex.

With surfaces covered in protective paper, drills whining and building inspectors touring the space, one would never guess that the venue was just a couple of days from hosting two sold-out inaugural concerts, on Nov. 9 and 10, headlined by indie hip-hop folk-rocker Beck.

Yet as the 18-month construction process came to a close last week, much of the work lies in the future, said Paul Tollett, president of concert promoter Goldenvoice, which manages the venue.

"Challenges - we don't know them yet," Tollett said. "That's what we'll find out. Right now, we're deciding what we're going to do in terms of dancing and special events. First, we wanted to get it open and get the bands in there."

Joining the year-old, 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre and the nearly 20,000-capacity Staples Center, Club Nokia completes L.A. Live's trio of big-ticket entertainment venues.

The new concert hall is expected to host 150 events each year. Dozens of musical and comedy acts are already booked to take the stage between now and April, and the diverse lineup includes Latin Grammy winners Calle 13 on Nov. 15, R&B singer Usher on Nov. 19, comedienne Sarah Silverman on Nov. 21 and former Poison frontman Bret Michaels on Dec. 7.

The venue is a linchpin for L.A. Live, officials at developer Anschutz Entertainment Group say.

"What this does is give us the ability to host any and all events, intimate to arena-sized performances," said L.A. Live Managing Director Lisa Herzlich. "Club Nokia will be the performance venue for breaking acts, special events, cultural shows, even corporate events and private parties. It's going to become a jewel in the music industry."

Focus on Sightlines

The opening of the $18.5 million Club Nokia marks the start of L.A. Live's second phase, most of which will roll out in December.

Rising on 28 acres around Staples Center, L.A. Live debuted with the opening of the Nokia Theatre in October 2007. Scheduled to wrap in 2010, it will eventually hold about a dozen restaurants and clubs, a 14-screen movie theater and a 54-story high-rise housing 1,001 JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel rooms and 224 condominiums.

Club Nokia occupies parts of the top three floors of a 450,000-square-foot, five-story building that will also house ground-floor restaurants, the Conga Room nightclub, bowling hangout Lucky Strike Lanes and Lounge and the Grammy Museum.

The 59,000-square-foot club, designed by architecture firm Gensler, features a bar and a dance floor for general admission ticket holders and a stage that measures 40-by-30 feet. There are 900 fixed seats in the balcony. A VIP area between the lower level and the balcony includes a lounge, private bar, banquettes and seven private cabanas. From the stage, even the last row of seats looks close enough to see faces, thanks to a steep grade.


As with the Nokia Theatre (where, officials boast, no seat is more than 200 feet from the stage), good sightlines throughout the venue were a priority. "There's not an area that's more important than any other," said Carolina Tombolesi of Gensler, the project manager. "Everything is integrated. It's not that you have the band and the people. When you come in, it's like you are the performer."

To create good views all around, the architects took care to minimize the appearance of bulky support structures on the dance floor ceiling. To make sure all exterior noise is blocked, they installed thick concrete walls with an acoustic "floating slab" inside and multi-layered floors.

"The biggest thing we want to emphasize is the performance," said Tombolesi. "It is more about the soul of the place than anything else. The soul is the music and the performance."

Cornering the Market

Though the venue will be available for private and corporate parties and will host DJ nights, live music is the main focus at Club Nokia, and patrons can expect to see a wide variety of performers.

"We didn't want it to be one style of music," said Tollett, whose firm created the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and also handles booking for Hollywood's El Rey and Palladium theaters. "We have someone booking Latin shows; we're stronger now with country and comedy. We try to be across the board."

Goldenvoice does not publicize data on ticket sales, but Tollett said demand for the first batch of Club Nokia shows has been healthy. That is good news for the promoter, as industry observers say Club Nokia is debuting at a shaky time for the concert business.

"I think a lot of people are very concerned about going forward, because most of the concert tickets going through now were sold before the stock market crashed," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of music industry trade magazine Pollstar. "The real concern is people who are putting shows on now for January, February and into next year."

Tollett admitted that the economy is a concern, but said that for Club Nokia the prognosis is "so far, so good." Ticket prices are leveling out across the board, he said, which should help attract customers.

Tollett said Club Nokia's newness will give it a competitive edge over similar-sized venues such as the Wiltern in Wilshire Center.

"We've seen venues across the country," he said. At Club Nokia, "the sightlines are really good. With the upstairs configuration, the bowl shape is the best I've ever seen. Usually upstairs is a second thought at places with a balcony."

Club Nokia could also get a boost from its proximity to L.A. Live's larger venues. "In London, we built a similar club," said Herzlich, referring to indigO2, a 2,350-seat club AEG developed near its 20,000-capacity O2 arena. "Prince played 28 nights at O2, and many of those nights he did a second set at the smaller club. We think a similar thing will happen with Club Nokia.

"This club was taken from looking at other clubs around the world and looking at what works and what doesn't work," she continued. "It has the perfect balance of acoustics and environment. I believe it will be an iconic entertainment destination."


BTW - Club Nokia is a beautiful venue. They DO allow cameras, just no professional camera equipment.