As this year’s quiet closure of the Richmond Coliseum has sent events traditionally held there to alternate venues, one of Central Virginia’s newest arenas has taken the opportunity to wrestle away one of the region’s more frequent touring attractions.
The 3-year-old VSU Multi-Purpose Center, home of the Virginia State University Trojans, plays host this Saturday to World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro wrestling promotion that for decades has called on the Coliseum as its local venue of choice.
With the nearly 12,000-seat Coliseum now closed and eyed for demolition as part of a downtown redevelopment plan, Victor Landry, VSU MPC’s general manager, said his 6,000-seat, multipurpose center saw an opening to pick up WWE’s business while giving the promotion another place to play locally.
“The greater Richmond area has always been a strong market for WWE, and we of course here at the venue are always looking for programming mix,” Landry said. “I think that us reaching out to them, them looking to play the market, we were able to make all the stars align to get this thing here at the venue.”
While the event – part of WWE’s SummerSlam Heatwave Tour – is a one-off for the center, the venue is hoping more wrestling shows come its way as a result, based on its seating capacity and production capabilities.
Landry noted such events bring with them additional economic impact that can carry over to businesses in the Tri-Cities area. He said such impacts were a driver in reaching out to WWE, along with the goal of picking up where the Coliseum left off.
“There’s the philosophical approach where we’re making sure that the greater Richmond area can still enjoy the same shows that they always have, and then there’s the financial side, where we’re looking for those shows that come in and generate revenue and economic impact for the community,” Landry said.
“In addition to the local fans, there are also fans who travel from as far as the Carolinas south and as far north as the D.C. area. When those folks come here, they spend money in our hotels here, our restaurants here, helping generate economic impact for the Petersburg/Tri-Cities/greater Richmond area.”
Such impacts are what critics of the Coliseum’s closure have said Richmond is losing out on so long as that arena remains shuttered. The nearly 50-year-old arena’s doors were closed at the start of this year, the result of a decision by management company SMG and the City of Richmond to stop booking events after 2018.
The closure coincided with NH District Corp.’s proposal to demolish the Coliseum as part of its $1.4 billion Navy Hill redevelopment project, which would replace the arena with a new venue as part of a 10-block revitalization. While endorsed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney last fall, the project has yet to be formally proposed to City Council as negotiations between the group and the city continue.
The uncertainty surrounding the Coliseum’s fate led to several events getting booked elsewhere. The Richmond Roughriders arena football team left for Wheeling, West Virginia, and other events such as VCU’s spring commencement ceremonies and Amway conferences were moved to the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
In addition to Saturday’s WWE event, VSU MPC picked up another event that otherwise would have been held at the Coliseum: this year’s Freedom Classic Festival basketball game, which was held Jan. 19.
Such additional events add revenue for VSU, which receives the proceeds from the 100 or so events the venue hosts each year. Landry would not disclose specific revenue numbers but said he’s hoping to add about 50 more events annually, in part from business picked up from the Coliseum.
“A lot of the shows that have played the Coliseum, since the Coliseum is no longer (an option), I think all of the venues in the area are trying to fill up,” he said. “We’re specifically going after the ticketed ones, trying to get them in the building. So far, this makes two that we know would ordinarily play the Coliseum, but we’re looking to get more in here.”
Landry and his team are employed by Spectra, the Philadelphia-based management company VSU enlisted when the center opened in 2016. The $84 million center is the home court for VSU Athletics, and also hosts annual shows and private events and banquets.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Coliseum remains a question mark as the Navy Hill talks continue. In May, a project to enhance a stretch of Leigh Street beside the Coliseum received funding priority from the state, though it’s unclear how that plan would work with NH District Corp.’s proposal to fill the sunken part of the street beside the arena with debris from its demolition.