Local concert venue leaders are starting to feel a sense of momentum with last week’s announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that stadiums and arenas could reopen.
Venues with a capacity of 10,000 or more people can reopen at 10% capacity starting Feb. 23, according to the new guidance. In the Capital Region, that only pertains to the Times Union Center, which has a maximum capacity of 17,500. A venue such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center has a capacity of more than 20,000, but it only has 5,200 reserved seats, so the new guidance does not permit the center to hold events, according to SPAC.
However, the new rules are a good sign for venues like the Palace Theatre.
“. . . I think hope is the big word,” said Sean Allen, the director of marketing. “As they start to allow the arenas to open up . . . you get the feeling that maybe we can look into the not-too-distant future and see a scenario where we’re also able to open up as well.”
Jon Elbaum, executive director of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, feels similarly.
“Obviously, it doesn’t impact us right now; I think it does show that we’re on the path to reopening for all of us,” Elbaum said.
Allen expects that the Palace, which has under 3,000 seats, will be among the next wave of venues to open, though there is still plenty to figure out before that can happen.
“I think there’s still a lot of things they have to work out. I can tell you on our end, and the venues that we talk with on a weekly basis that are local, we’ve been working on a back-end plan for reopening, making sure that everything is safe, how to handle social distancing — but so much of it too falls under the question mark of when we are able to reopen [and] how much will things have changed by then,” Allen said.
Under the guidelines for reopening arenas, venues and events must get approval from the New York State Department of Health. Both spectators and staff members must receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event. Contact tracing will be in place, along with social distancing measures and temperature checks.
Even when smaller venues are allowed to reopen, there’s also a question of the economics behind limited capacity events.
“My understanding is that the venues are restricted to 10% capacity, which would mean 44 audience [members] in the small theatre, 98 in the larger theatre,” said Peter Lesser, the executive director of The Egg. “I don’t believe this would be practical from an economic point of view and [I’m] not sure if audiences are ready to head indoors quite yet. The performances currently scheduled for the spring are moving to the fall or into 2022.”
Allen hopes that by the time venues like the Palace are allowed to open, that limited capacity percentage may be a little higher. However, even if it’s not, there’s still a benefit.
“Having those percentages at all, it’s sort of an idea of what direction we’re moving in. Also, publicly ticketed events aside, it potentially gives us the opportunity, as we move ahead, to do other sorts of smaller events where we may be able to realize some profit and income just from the ability to be open in any form,” Allen said.
At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Elbaum isn’t expecting indoor concerts to start up until the fall.
“One of the things that factor into our kind of programming is that the artists aren’t going out right now for the most part. So even if we were able to stay open at a significant capacity in a couple weeks, there’s nobody we can really put on the stage,” Elbaum said.
However, there is still the hope that live, in-person concerts can come back this year.
“I think we’re just excited at the prospect that 2021 may see some live concerts. I think all of us, whether you work in the business and are ready to go back to work full time or you’re just a big fan and it’s something that you enjoy as a personal passion, I think everyone’s happy to see that maybe this is something we’ll be doing this year to some extent,” Allen said.
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