Carolyn Fath, Allison Lenz
DJ Nick Nice (left) and Rob Dz (right) support the Frank Productions proposal, saying it could ultimately benefit local musicians.
On Nov. 7 city officials announced their opposition to a 2,000- to 2,500-seat music venue slated for the 1000 block of East Washington Avenue. Proposed by Madison-based concert promotion company Frank Productions, the venue is part of a Stone House Development project that includes residential and commercial space. City planners approved everything in the development plan except for the venue, which they fear might cause parking and traffic problems. The decision was announced after a neighborhood group formed to voice concerns about the proposed venue.
Many members of the Madison music community have expressed disappointment in the days since the city's announcement.
John Praw Kruse, a local musician who owns the record label Mine All Mine, says he's saddened by the city's decision. He sees the 1000 block of East Washington as a potential source of growth for Madison's music industry.
"I find the opposition to this venue disappointing, particularly since [city officials] approve of the development without a venue. We need more venues in town, but no one's making that easier. It'll be difficult to grow the industry and bring in bigger acts if we don't work on fixing that," he says.
Local DJ Nick Nice is optimistic that the venue will still happen. He isn't sure it would be a great opportunity for local musicians in the short term but says it could provide broader exposure for touring acts, which could give local artists more chances to perform as openers at big concerts and join the lineups of festivals.
Nice points to the small festival model the Majestic Theatre has used for events like the Wisconsin Folk Fest. He says this approach -- putting a variety of local and regional bands on one bill for one event -- helps draw attention to Madison acts.
"When you're dealing with a 2,000-seat venue, you can't fill it every night, so you have to come up with some creative ideas to generate income and keep it busy," he says.
Local rapper Rob Dz applauds Frank Productions' efforts to build a concert hall but says he's not sure how valuable the venue would be for the local music scene.
"There are a handful of venues currently, and it's hard enough for local acts to get booked there," he says.
For the most part, Dz supports the Frank Productions proposal, but he says there may be other options for a venue on the city's east side. He envisions a scenario in which a promoter like Frank Productions partners with the Barrymore Theatre -- the Atwood Avenue venue that holds nearly 1,000 guests -- and revitalizes it, much like Gus Paras has done with the Orpheum on State Street.
The capacity of the proposed Frank Productions venue is similar to that of downtown mainstays like the Orpheum and Overture Hall. Nice said it wouldn't hurt to have other large venues in town because it creates more competition and increases the number of touring acts that visit town.
He says the bigger question is whether Madison can support another venue of this size. He suspects that it can, citing the increasing number of sold-out shows he's seen downtown, in particular comedian Dave Chapelle's six sold-out performances at the Orpheum last month.
But will local musicians' support have any impact on the city's decision? Charlie Goldstone, president of Frank Productions, says the city's rejection of the venue has given the company lots of publicity, which has resulted in an outpouring of support for the project. He says stagehands and security personnel interested in new job opportunities have contacted the company, and that friends within the industry, including agents, managers and radio station employees, have expressed their support. He says strangers have even approached him on the street to talk about the project.
"We had a whole bunch of people come to us with alternate sites," he says. "It kind of re-energized us."
Goldstone notes that Frank Productions is looking at about five other sites he considers better locations for a concert venue. In other words, fans eager for a new performance space shouldn't be too worried.
But what about musicians seeking more chances to play?
Goldstone says large venues don't necessarily present lots of opportunities for local acts. But he's hopeful that a new Frank Productions venue would provide a profile boost for Madison, and that local performers could ride the hype wave.
"Based on everything we've heard, we know that the city and Madison concertgoers are ready for that," he says.