PHOENIX-Construction has begun in downtown Phoenix on a $35-million, 5,000-seat theater, a uniquely sized venue that the developers hope to roll out to several other US cities in the coming months.

Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Phoenix Suns and managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has an interest in the development company, the Phoenix Downtown Theatre. The Dodge Theatre is is expected to fill the city’s niche for a mid-sized venue, which has a current void between the 1,000-seat halls and the 20,000-seat sports arenas, Bob Machen, managing partner of the group, tells

Phoenix isn’t alone in its need for the niche market. “In most cities in this country there is a 2,000-seat and a 19,000-seat venue, but there is nothing in between to fill the niche for smaller concerts,” Machen says. “I looked around the country at 5,000-seat theaters and they are all very, very successful. It just became acutely evident to me that this would work.”

The theater, scheduled to open by April, is being built on a parcel between 4th and 5th avenues and Adams and Washington streets. It is adjacent to a new federal courthouse and a city courthouse.

The Dodge Theatre will feature a glass-enclosed front lobby, entrance canopies and exterior walls constructed of masonry, concrete and metal. The 100-foot wide stage offers maximum flexibility for productions, as does the seating, which can be adjusted with movable walls and curtains to downsize to 3,000 seats.

Acts that pull 4,000 or 5,000 patrons can play in larger venues like America West Arena, but the overhead is higher and even if curtains are put up to make it seem more intimate, it still has a cavernous feel, Machen says. “A small band that draws say 4,000 is not likely to have the sound equipment to fill America West Arena so they look and sound weak,” he says. “It’s a different mentality than when you are playing in a 5,000-seat theater where you know you belong. It works much better.”

Dodge Theatre’s historic predecessors are venues such as the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and New York City’s Theater at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. The high-profile entertainment spots illustrate non-traditional styling and size, but have conventional devices for patron convenience and operational efficiency while making the most of a downtown’s civic environment.

Machen expects to book all kinds of musical acts, along with boxing events, wrestling events, comedians, corporate events, speakers and Broadway productions. He says interest already is riding high from booking agents and talent managers, predicting that as many as 160 acts could be booked in the first year. The long-range goal is to sign 200 or more acts per year.

Similarly sized theaters will be introduced in two and perhaps three other cities in the coming months, Machen says. But, he’s staying mum about the locations.

Dodge Theatre’s primary competitors are the 3,000-seat Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University and the 7,000-seat Sundome near the Del Webb retirement community of Sun City. The university theater, a Frank Lloyd Wright design, gets most of the Broadway productions that come to town.

The City of Phoenix donated the land for the Dodge Theatre, which will be managed by the Phoenix Downtown Theatre LLC and operated by Sports & Entertainment Services, which also manages America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark. The Phoenix Downtown Theatre LLC has a 65-year operating agreement with the city and the rights to buy the theater if desired, Machen says.

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