JAC plans to move slowly

WARREN – In the past week, the Covelli Centre in Youngstown hosted two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Rod Stewart and an outdoor electronic music dance / paint party, announced concerts by Grammy-winning country act Little Big Town and gospel legend Bill Gaither and put tickets on sale for a nationally touring equestrian show.

Don’t expect anything that splashy when JAC Management, the same company that runs the Covelli Centre, takes over operation of Packard Music Hall Monday.

JAC founder and CEO Eric Ryan said, “Truthfully, we have to crawl before we walk … We have to see what the market can bear. That’s the $100 million question. How many is too many?”

JAC signed a three-year contract with the city of Warren in June to run the hall, which was built in 1955 and donated to the city with money provided in a trust established by industrialist William Doud Packard. But the money generated by the hall wasn’t enough to cover its operating costs. Last year $325,000 was taken from the city’s general fund to subsidize the venue.

The new contract reduces the subsidy to $300,000 this year, $250,000 in 2015-16 and $200,000 in 2016-17. A two-year option, controlled by JAC, would continue to drop the subsidy by $50,000 annually.

But in addition to saving the city money, the expectation is that JAC and Eric Ryan Productions will be able to bring more and bigger shows to the city. JAC will have to work around long-time tenants like the W.D. Packard Concert Band, for whom the hall was built, and the Warren Civic Music Association, which has used the building since it opened for its subscription season, as well as the ambitious slate of a six-attraction Broadway series and a five-act concert series offered by Sunrise Entertainment in 2014-15.

Ryan believes there are some niches in the market that they can fill.

“I certainly think one of our first priorities is to excite and activate the younger demographic,” Ryan said. “I believe that is the biggest void. Just as big of a void is new music, current artists that are on the charts, up-and-coming artists, that kind of thing. That’s really what we’re going to zero in on, doing some things for the younger demo and genres such as country and rock.”

One way to do that is to take advantage of the hall’s unique configuration. Unlike Powers and Stambaugh auditoriums in Youngstown, which have similar overall capacities, Packard has an open floor that would be perfect for general-admission standing-room concerts.

“We could do mid-level country shows and club style rock shows that are going to draw 500, 600, 800 people and be happy with that,” he said.

Ryan also is looking at luring bigger acts to the venue as well.

“I really plan on kicking it into gear in the first and second quarter of 2015,” he said. “We’re working on about 10 offers that are out there right now for sizable shows, but the trick is we’re really awfully close to Akron, awfully close to Cleveland.”

It’s a matter of establishing a reputation that will persuade booking agents to route their shows to Warren instead of those neighboring cities in larger markets.

“There’s going to be a process there, and it was a process when we first took over here,” Ryan said. “We had to prove it to the industry that this was a venue that is viable and a market that will buy and support the arena. We have to do the same thing there, and you have to do it correctly. It’s such a small industry. One thing we pride ourselves in is taking care of the artist and producing and promoting the show at a very high level.”

While Ryan’s company will be in charge, Jim Bugos will be the general manager in the building.

“Jim’s a Trumbull County guy who knows a lot of the players,” Ryan said. “He has a lot of management experience and has been working here at the Covelli Centre with us for about the last year, so I thought Jim was a perfect fit.”

Bugos doesn’t officially start until Tuesday, but he spent much of August working with the exiting staff of Christopher Stephenson, Cherie Celedonia and Frank Gill to help make for a smooth transition.

“It’s just a phenomenal building,” he said. “I don’t think the public realizes what they have there. Just to walk in the building and stand there in the middle of the floor, you really realize what Mr. Packard’s vision was way back. I look at it as a challenge and an honor to move the hall forward.”