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Mixed reactions to casino's new concert hall

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A shakeup in Winnipeg's concert scene is expected next spring when Club Regent opens its new 1,400-seat  concert venue.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A shakeup in Winnipeg's concert scene is expected next spring when Club Regent opens its new 1,400-seat concert venue. Photo Store

WINNIPEG'S concert industry is preparing for a shakeup when a new multimillion-dollar venue opens next spring.

The Club Regent Casino is 18 months into the construction of a new 1,400-seat facility, the first new concert-specific site of that size to be built in the city in a century.

It will feature a multi-tiered floor set on hydraulic lifts, which can easily be transformed from a theatre setting to a cabaret for 700 people or a flat floor for banquets, trade shows or weddings. It will also have a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system and the latest in video technology.

When the venue to be known as the Event Centre welcomes its first performers, it appears the 550-seat concert area at McPhillips Street Casino -- both facilities are owned by the province -- will be retired.

"Ultimately, our headliner shows will be primarily at Club Regent," said Karen Hiebert, a spokeswoman for Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries.

No price tag on the renovation at Club Regent has been released, although one industry source pegs it at more than $15 million.

The growing whispers among the concert bookers in town is the Burton Cummings Theatre, which was built in 1907 and has a capacity of 1,638, and the Pantages Playhouse Theatre, which opened in 1914 and seats 1,475, are the most likely venues to "have their grass cut" by the new Club Regent venue.

Wayne Jackson, general manager of the Burt, agrees his downtown institution is in the crosshairs of the new facility. He doesn't think anything can be done to stop the government's growing infatuation with the concert industry.

"We've asked for renovation money from the government. We're an existing historical building and we're part of the community. (The casinos) aren't bingo halls like they used to be," he said.

Jackson said some acts may opt to take the "easy money" from a casino rather than rely on selling as many tickets as possible on their own. Casino shows don't have to survive on ticket sales alone because they also serve as a driver to get people to gamble.

"The casinos are trying to put more bodies in their buildings. (They're thinking) hopefully they'll all spend $20 at one of those one-armed bandits," he said.

Not everybody is predicting gloom and doom because of the new room. Meg McGimpsey, general manager of the West End Cultural Centre, said the expected closure of McPhillips Street Casino's concert hall could result in extra business on Ellice Avenue.

"We're about a 400-seat room. If (the casinos) have artists that sell about 350 tickets, that wouldn't be appropriate for a 1,400-seat room, it might be more likely that they'll play here instead of the casinos," she said.

Kevin Donnelly, general manager and senior VP of True North Sports & Entertainment, said it's exciting when a new venue opens.

"In theory, it could bring new business (to Winnipeg), either shows that were missed or that couldn't get into or afford to play in other venues," he said.

Rob Olson, CEO of the Manitoba Centennial Centre Corp., a Crown corporation responsible for the 2,305-seat Centennial Concert Hall, said his facility might lose the odd date after the Club opens but believes the entire concert industry stands to benefit.

"We're taking the position that (the government) is trying to attract external customers to the province to augment their gaming and bring in outside patrons and tourists. That's a net win for Manitoba."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Should aging concert venues like the Burt and Pantages receive government funding to upgrade their facilities? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2013 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 6:40 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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