San Jose Civic Reborn

The San Jose Civic Auditorium, which had fallen on hard times in recent decades, is coming back to life as a full-time California concert venue with the help of a $13 million makeover and a programming and operations boost from Nederlander Concerts.

A July 23 ceremony unveiled a cutting-edge LED exterior lighting system. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Team San Jose CEO Dan Fenton, Nederlander CEO Adam Friedman and various city councilmembers and officials gave notice that the long-neglected building is ready for its close-up.

The 3,400-capacity San Jose Civic, built in 1934, has seen its share of big-name talent including Duke Ellington, Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones, Santana and The Who, but competition from San Francisco venues, waning interest from promoters and the ravages of age had taken its toll.

In recent years, it was an open building and hosted occasional concerts promoted by Live Nation, Another Planet Entertainment and others. But with the February signing of an exclusive agreement between the city’s Team San Jose and Nederlander, the rebirth of the Civic began in earnest.

A local management and operations team, headed up by GM John Ciulla, talent buyer Max McAndrews and marketing director Jennifer Cooke, all concert industry veterans, was assembled in May and immediately went to work booking shows even as renovation continues.

Friedman expects Nederlander, along with civic partner Team San Jose, to succeed in restoring the San Jose Civic to greatness where others have either failed or lost interest. He has a vision, and says the historic Spanish Colonial landmark in the city’s downtown fits perfectly with the rest of Nederlander’s portfolio of prestigious venues.

And Friedman is no stranger to the San Jose market. When he was with House of Blues, he spearheaded an effort to build a 7,000-seat theatre south of downtown before conflicts between city and county officials and financial uncertainties all but quashed the project before he left HoB to join Nederlander.

“Strategically, this fits right in with our core strength and routing of iconic venues up and down the West Coast,” Friedman told Pollstar. “I had an interest in San Jose long before I joined Nederlander. When I came to Nederlander, I never took my eyes off San Jose. I always felt that it was an underserved market.

“I was so bullish about it because it’s the exact same mileage from The Grove [of Anaheim] to any of the other clubs in L.A. as it is from the San Jose Civic to San Francisco’s Fillmore, Warfield or [Oakland] Fox theatres,” Friedman said. “It’s 35 miles but, in terms of driving on any given night, it’s a million miles away. It’s absolutely a separate market.”

Nederlander’s vision for the San Jose Civic extends beyond establishing a market stronghold and doing the restoration work. Friedman wants artists and managers to recognize the advantages of a San Jose play not instead of, but in addition to, a San Francisco stop when they’re routing the West Coast. And he wants to “rebrand” the building to locals who may have forgotten about it, too.

“The building wasn’t even lit. It had been unlit for years and you didn’t even know it was there when you’re standing in front of it at night, so the first thing that went in was the LED package,” Friedman explained. “It needs to be branded; not just through the programming but through making sure people know it’s there and renovating it so that people know it’s a great place to just hang.”

To that end, the restoration includes the lighting, new paint inside and out, new concession and merchandise areas, expanded restrooms and all new seating and flooring. The auditorium’s original wood floor has been refinished, and a $1 million sound and video package was installed in mid-July. Capacity is flexible with fixed and portable seats, allowing for a maximum of 3,400 GA and 3,000-seat reserved capacities.

From the back-of-house standpoint, the San Jose Civic will be a vastly improved experience for artists and their crews, too. In addition to new acoustical paneling and expansion of BOH areas, structures that had once blocked the loading dock have been demolished and the space cleared for direct load-in access.

For fans, the entrance will feature a “wall of fame” with life-sized framed photographs of San Jose Civic headliners over the years, from Ellington and Sinatra to Townshend and Santana.

There will also be a gallery for more of the hundreds of historic photographs just off the main concession area, where concertgoers can congregate and “have a beer while they’re looking,” Friedman said.

Programming will be eclectic to match a diverse South Bay demographic, Friedman said, pointing to shows already on the books including Blue October and Switchfoot, Polo Polo, Jaguares, Dream Theater, Mudvayne, Gary Allen, Teena Marie and Keith Sweat and Michael McDonald.

Renovations will continue in the meantime, but Friedman says it will be unnoticeable to concertgoers, save for a month or so when the building will be dark for major work.