It's a tale as old as time... a new concert venue emerges because a sporting complex wanted to host graduations.
The Podium, the indoor track-and-field/multiuse sports facility that opened next door to Spokane Arena in fall 2021, is now hosting live music. The path to get there has more turns than the building's track.
Originally, the Spokane Public Facilities District (PFD) — which also operates the Spokane Arena, Spokane Convention Center and First Interstate Center for the Arts — planned for the Podium to be a sports-only building. But the structure was constructed with a design-build process, meaning one where the plans aren't really set in stone until the building is done.
The PFD realized that with some tweaks, the space could host graduation ceremonies that had been taking place at Spokane Arena, opening up more dates for Spokane Arena concerts, which is really the cash cow that keeps the rest of the PFD buildings (which operate at a loss) financially afloat.
That financial reality isn't something to gloss over. The Spokane PFD feasibility studies projected the Podium to initially lose about $350,000 to $400,000 per year in operations costs, subsidized by Arena revenue.
And although the Convention Center made its first profit in 2019, things have yet to pick back up in the wake of COVID. So rather than having the Podium sit dormant for the majority of the year (the prime indoor track season is December through March), bringing concerts into the fold would help subsidize the space. The PFD projects that hosting six to eight concerts per year should be enough for the building to break even financially.
The Podium's capacity of around 4,000 (similar to the outdoor concert venue at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, which can hold 5,000) is ideal for acts too big for a place like the Knitting Factory (1,500 capacity), yet too small for Spokane Arena (12,000 capacity).
"It's basically just a Knitting Factory on steroids," says Paul Christiansen, the PFD's director of sports. "It's a [general admission] venue. We're not going to sell seats. We're not going to put chairs on the floor. And so that's a little bit different than the Arena, because a lot of times we're putting chair seating on the floor. I would think of it more as bands that could easily fill the Knitting Factory and then some are what we're looking for."
Matt Meyer, director of entertainment for the PFD, might be a bit more ambitious in his live music vision for the Podium than the sports-focused Christiansen. While six shows a year at the Podium is the low-end goal to help balance the budget, Meyer suggests interest from promoters could mean that 10 to 15 genre-spanning shows per year might be more realistic.
"It's not just going to be the typical country and rock," says Meyer. "We've got plans for some hip-hop coming through here. Working on some midtier EDM shows as well."
The biggest hurdle for the Podium becoming a concert venue? The sound.
It's not merely that the Podium wasn't designed for concert acoustics. After construction, PFD staff found that the noise levels were even terrible for some sports.
"The Pacific Northwest qualifier volleyball tournament was hosted here last March," says Christiansen. "Sixteen courts, 64 teams at any given time. And it was ridiculously noisy in here. I mean... if you were out on that event floor, you were basically wearing earplugs because it was so loud."
The PFD conducted a study on how to improve the acoustics. With wall treatments and curtains, they were able to drastically decrease the bounce rate of reverberated sound in time to host graduation ceremonies in June 2022. The large black curtains do the bulk of the acoustic work while also cutting off space to make the Podium floor feel slightly less massive.
There was also the major issue of protecting the Podium's $5 million track, which varies in how much weight can be placed on spots depending on if the flooring is over straightaways, turns, etc. The crew first puts down a thick tarp over the track to prevent damages from drink spills (there's a beer garden on the Podium floor for concerts in addition to concessions on the concourse level) and other accidents. Then that tarp is covered with a $1 million Terraplas-HD floor. Each panel is 39-by-39 inches with interlocking tabs to spread the weight load.
Once the floor is down, it takes the crew roughly 12 hours to get the space set up for a concert — setting up the curtains, building the stage, etc.
The Podium got its first test run on Oct. 1 with a lineup headlined by theatrical hard rock/metalcore band In This Moment.
The space feels cavernous. The Podium floor is 75,000 square feet, which even dwarfs the Spokane Arena's 52,000-square-foot floor. In This Moment drew just under 2,000 attendees, so the wide sides of the floor were very empty, but that also means it didn't feel overly crowded.
For a first run, everything seemed relatively solid. It's obviously not a venue designed for concert acoustics, but there was nothing really to complain about sound-wise (the sound quality fades on the far sides of the Arena, but that's expected; if you're attending, try to get more centered in the stands or on the floor). Really, the Podium reminded me a lot of WAMU Theater in Seattle, a similarly cavernous convention center-style space that might not be the ideal place to see shows, but fits a venue niche for not-quite-arena-level acts and has good enough sound.
Christiansen notes that there will be adjustments for future shows. For example, some of the curtains to help with acoustics didn't arrive in time for the first show, and the PFD might consider bringing the stage closer to the stands for smaller shows in the 2,000 capacity range.
"We would like to create much more of a club atmosphere," says Christiansen. "Right now, it kind of felt to me more like an arena atmosphere."
A Day To Remember, The Used, Movements, Magnolia Park
WHEN: Fri, Oct. 14 at 6 pm
WHERE: 511 W. Dean Ave.
TICKETS: $50-$70, on sale at thepodiumusa.com
The Podium crew will get a chance to make some of those adjustments before their next show, featuring the metalcore/pop punk hybrid A Day to Remember and screamo standouts the Used on Oct. 14.
While it's the only other show announced at the Podium, it certainly won't be the space's swan song. Promoters from Live Nation flew in to check out the In This Moment show, and Christiansen says they were excited about the prospect of routing tours to stop to The Podium. He even suggested a "pie in the sky" idea might be to create a music festival that would use all of the nearby PFD facilities once the downtown soccer stadium is built.
"We're now kind of putting together a sports and entertainment district," he says. "It's not necessarily a formal thing that we've been trying to put together, but... the stadium [is] going in with the Podium right across the street and the Arena in close proximity, [plus] the Pavilion in the center of the park. Matt Meyer has been kind of kicking around some idea of a music festival where we could be using all of the buildings. I mean, if you throw in the [First Interstate Center for the Arts]... it could be a really neat setup." ♦