Merriweather To Study Enclosure

When I.M.P chief Seth Hurwitz took over management of the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., the building’s owner was considering turning the 40-year-old shed into an enclosed theatre and turning its lawns into a parking lot.

Four years after taking the management reins from Live Nation, I.M.P. has made various improvements to the amphitheatre, including upgrading concessions, installing a mosh pit and adding a sculpture garden. Attendance has improved and no one is writing the venue off anymore.

With the improved outlook, Hurwitz and property owner General Growth Properties have begun looking at options for continued improvement of the building, including the feasibility of enclosing the pavilion during off-season months for year-round use.

"When I got in [to Merriweather] it was left for dead. But there was nothing wrong with it; it’s a great venue," Hurwitz told Pollstar. "People just needed to stop saying it wasn’t.

"Between the county, the landlord and me, it’s full speed ahead. We’d love to take that level of commitment and quality to a year-round level."

Hurwitz acknowledges the engineering involved in creating an airtight, but temporary, enclosed structure out of a venue built for outdoor use is going to be a major challenge.

"We’re reinventing the wheel," Hurwitz said. "We will not move forward unless we are convinced it’s 100 percent perfect, weatherproof, etc. We’re going to do a $100,000 study. If it turns out it can’t be done, we won’t move forward. If it can, we will."

General Growth Properties VP and mid-Atlantic GM Douglas M. Godine told the Baltimore Sun that his company and I.M.P. are finalizing a working agreement spelling out each company’s role and contributions to future improvements to the venue.

"We still don’t have an exact figure with regard to construction costs," Godine told the paper. "I’d say in three months we should have something pretty concrete. That’s our goal now."

The issue of enclosing the Merriweather Post Pavilion has been around since at least 2003, when Howard County considered buying the property from then-owner Rouse Co. But the idea was to build a permanent indoor theatre, not a building that could be converted from a shed to a theatre depending on the season.

As the county and Rouse Co. considered their options, a county-commissioned report declared that $19.5 million in renovations was needed at the venue. Despite the report, GGP pledged to not pave over the venue when it ultimately acquired the property.

"We never agreed with that number," Hurwitz said. "I don’t think there’s that much that’s needed. [The commission report] was kind of a pie-in-the-sky laundry list from somebody who’s not in the concert business. I would like to improve the venue I have rather than buying more. I believe in improving the business one has."

Current Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, while still seeing a need for improvements, is apparently open to creative solutions.

"The financial study the county commissioned bore out the fact it’s the large concerts that allow Merriweather to generate the revenue," Ulman told the Sun. "I am hopeful there could be an indoor/outdoor enclosable venue that offers year-round programming. … It could be a very versatile venue that offers a lot more programming than it does today."