Township gets huge overhaul

Under the leadership of Executive Director Sally Roach, the Township Auditorium, an 80-year-old Taylor Street venue, will unveil a new look this week, the result of a $12 million renovation.

On The Township auditorium's new second-floor balcony there is a cove where a contemporary chandelier of hanging white spheres will hover above nighttime chatter.

The cove's floor-to-ceiling glass will present a splendid scene of the city's skyline, a view certain to induce wows from guests.

"That's all we wanted," said Sally Roach, the Township's executive director. "One word: 'wow.' "

The Township, the 80-year-old Taylor Street venue, will unveil its new look this week, the results of a $12 million renovation. The lobby has been expanded, a new roof was put on the building, state-of-the-art stage equipment has been installed and the auditorium has been repainted in soothing tones.

There's a new stage floor, and the balconies that overlook the lobby and entrance, which has been extended to the Taylor Street sidewalk, will give people a place to stretch during intermission. The renovations, though, haven't altered the Township's classic ambiance.

But people don't buy event tickets to marvel at a building.

Before there was the Koger Center, the Carolina Coliseum and the Colonial Life Arena, the Township was the largest concert hall in town. The venue, once a frequent stop on the wrestling circuit, became known, particularly in recent years, as a place for gospel, R&B, hip-hop and comedy shows.

Will this update of the Township attract the kind of talent that will justify the cost? Will the building have shows that make it a viable entertainment option in this market?

Tom H. Regan thinks the changes can only help. In 2003, Regan conducted a marketing study commissioned by Richland County, which owns the building.

"What we basically said was the old lady needed a new dress," said Regan, an associate professor in USC's Department of Sport and Entertainment Management. "Without the update, there were going to be no events."

The Township has three main selling points for fans, performers and promoters: a fantastic sound system; the kind of backstage amenities that will please even the most extravagant diva; and new-building excitement within the community.

The building, Regan said, will be attractive to promoters like AEG Live, which booked Tony Bennett, the popular standards and jazz singer. Bennett will open the building Thursday night.

But there wasn't a rush on the box office when the show was announced.

"People are waiting and spending closer to the event," Regan said. "The tickets are going to pick up here at the end because people are excited about the new venue."

He added: "Let's hope I'm right."

Sound of the music

Tom Young is his name, and Bennett says he's the best sound man in America.

"He was with Sinatra for 20 years, and I adopted him after Sinatra left," Bennett said.

Young is particular about how he wants his crooners to be heard. Sid Gattis, owner of Gattis Pro Audio, which installed the Township's new system, called Young a stickler. "He's a no-play guy," Gattis said. "If he doesn't like it, he'll tell you."

The Nexo speaker system Gattis installed has met Young's approval, and Bennett will sing through it. If the system is good enough for Bennett, it should be good enough for just about any vocalist.

"It's one of the most advanced products in the world," Gattis said. "The sound quality is absolutely phenomenal."

Most traveling shows bring their own consoles and monitor systems, and that still will be the case with larger and louder productions.

"Some of the rock 'n' roll shows are going to be bigger, and we want them to use their sound system because their sound guy knows their board," Roach said.

At least now, there's an option to use the Township's equipment. Plug in a microphone, and, Gattis boasted, the sound will travel flawlessly to every seat in the house.

"And that's what they're trying to accomplish," he continued. "Even the guy in the cheap seats needs to hear good.

"Everybody that's heard it has gone, 'wow.' "

The renovations

The stage rigging systems -- the wire and rope features that control the stage mechanics -- are new. The 50-foot-wide velour stage curtains were taken down and shipped to New York to be cleaned and re-fireproofed.

The massive hall underneath the building has been carved into office space, dressing rooms and dining and banquet space. There's a prep kitchen and washers and dryers.

The economy was in the dumps when construction began a year ago this month, but that worked in the Township's favor.

"We were able to get things at prices that three years ago we wouldn't have been able to afford," Roach said.

"I'm beyond wowed," Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce said of the new look. "I couldn't be happier."

For years the Township lost money, and intermittent upgrades didn't make much of a difference. The county, Pearce said, couldn't continue to subsidize a venue that was losing money.

The $12 million renovation, he hopes, will make the Township a destination -- for performers and the public.

"I think we nailed it with the performers," Pearce said. "Because a happy performer is going to come back here.

"We were able to actually do more work with less money, so the public is going to get a lot more out of it, too."

The only makeover in the 3,100-seat auditorium was the addition of rails in some areas and paint that makes the hall feel lighter.

The new lobby and balconies will rekindle an earlier era of the building, if only because of the people watching. In the years that Gene Autry, Billy Graham and Elvis Presley appeared at the Township, people dressed their best because going to a show was a time to see and be seen.

Stephanie Morgan of Stevens & Wilkinson, the architecture firm that redesigned the building, which retained its original facade, had that in mind.

"We were wanting that wow factor when the patrons come into the building and having that nice new lobby space," she said.

After Bennett

Roach got the message from promoters who told her not to call them for shows.

"They said we will come back when you renovate," she said. "Now I haven't gotten them back yet, but we're working on a lot of those."

A good relationship with promoters is essential in booking quality performers for a venue like the Township.

Rob Manly, the regional production manager for Live Nation, arguably the most influential live-events company in the world, said promoters can usually work around a venue's imperfections.

However, "the Township was always a predicament because stuff didn't end up in the right spot like in a normal theater," Manly said, referring to stage placement and the loading area.

He advised the Township and Roach on what needed to be done.

Like the crossover corridor behind the stage, which allows side-to-side movement without stepping onto the stage. And the loading area, with storage, that can now handle two trucks at a time.

The people in their seats won't notice the backstage changes. What they'll recognize is the talent on the stage. After Bennett, the Superstars of Comedy featuring Tommy Davidson, Arnez J. and John Witherspoon will come to the building Saturday.