COLUMBIA, SC — The Colonial Life Arena, the 18,000-seat venue on Lincoln Street in the Vista, opened in 2002. The arena was built by USC as a home for the Gamecock men’s and women’s basketball teams — and as a venue to attract top-tier concert tours. The arena succeeded early.
In April 2004, Aerosmith, Prince, Kenny Chesney (with Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley), Shania Twain and Jimmy Buffett performed at the arena, making it No. 1 in ticket sales in the country for the month, according to Venues Today. In August of that year, the arena stopped selling tickets through Ticketmaster and started using its own system. Eight years later, the system is still in place.
The arena isn’t just music and sports. WWE, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, Cirque Du Soleil, Monster Jam, conventions and more have held events at the arena.
In November, Tom Paquette, the only general manager the Colonial Life Arena had known in its existence to that point, announced he was leaving to become the vice president and general manager for San Antonio’s AT&T Center, home of the NBA franchise San Antonio Spurs.
Lexie Boone was announced as Paquette’s replacement in January, effectively naming him the leader for the arena’s second decade. We talked to Boone, who had previously worked at the Global Spectrum-managed arena, about the arena’s impact thus far and, well, moving forward.
The Colonial Life Arena has made a significant impact in the city. You were here during the building’s infancy. Has the building done what it set out to do?
I think it has. That’s not to say every year is a homerun year. Overall, if you look at the 10 years as a whole, it’s a pretty good plate there.
What makes things work here?
It’s always keeping up with what’s going on in the industry and just competing at a higher level. There’s more competition regionally than when we opened. We build the relationship (with promoters and performers), maintain the relationship and prove that we can sell tickets.
Kenny Chesney is coming back on May 4. The relationship with The Messina Group, Chesney’s promoters, and Chesney himself, is one of the reasons he wanted to book another show at Williams-Brice Stadium.
I think (Chesney) can tell the fans of Columbia and the region are unlike fans elsewhere. They really embrace him. They have a special relationship.
You’re celebrating the first 10 years, but I’m sure you’re already looking to the next 10. How does one plan for a decade of music and various other entertainment?
It’s tough to plan anything 10 years out. It’s like I tell my staff there, this is the beginning of the next 10 years. We’re a market that can sustain various levels of entertainment and various genres. We want to be everything to everybody. We want the 3-4,000 seat shows.
Country is still king at the building — and in Columbia, in some ways. Is it a bad thing for the arena to be known for its country lineup?
Absolutely not. But I don’t want opportunities to go elsewhere because we do a lot of country. I think, in general, country has proven across the board that fans will sustain the shows. We’re not being pigeonholed into the country genre. That’s why we will do more shows like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam.
Drake was such a successful show in February. Not just the overall production, but in attendance, which exceed 8,000. On Tuesday, you’ll host Rick Ross, a frequent Drake collaborator. What are your expectations for the show — and urban music going forward at the building?
I don’t think it’s going to be the number of people that came to Drake. I think it will be a good crowd. Probably 3 or 4,000, and it will be a good show. I think we’ve proven that we can sell the amount of tickets that make these shows successful.
So many people are sharing their memories with the arena. Give me one of yours.
Bruce Springsteen, the first show that was open to the public (Dec. 9, 2002). I heard a lot about him, but had never seen one of his shows. It was an eye opening experience.
By the numbers
Dollars spent at arena vendors spent in 10 years.
Total dollars in state and city sales tax between November 2002 and September 2012.
Number of people to attend events at the arena in the first 10 years
The Colonial Life Arena has had big names perform on its stage. Here are the biggest:
LL Cool J
Olivia Newton John
Kings of Leon
Zac Brown Band
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.