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Our View: Adding acts at Convocation Center a win

Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 12:01 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 28, 2014 12:02 a.m. CDT

An effort to attract more events to Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center can only benefit the area.

Although some changes might be necessary to make the center competitive with other venues closer to major cities such as Chicago and Rockford, it’s hardly an impossible feat.

Naturally, many of us who live here would appreciate more entertainment options close to home. But bringing more acts to the 10,000-seat arena off Route 38 that could attract more out-of-towners also stands to benefit the local economy.

John Cheney, who began as senior associate athletic director for facilities and event operations at NIU in January, and John Faso, installed as Convocation Center director this month, said they will work to do both by bringing more acts that people want to see to NIU’s facilities in DeKalb.

Sounds like a good plan.

But what else do people want to see at the Convocation Center? Country music performances seem to be a staple, but apparently, a circus isn’t a good bet. Public pressure from the NIU community probably had something to do with the recent “Circus Spectacular” canceling its plans to appear at the center.

Instead, if people from the area want to see a circus, they’ll have to travel to Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Chicago’s United Center or Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

Cheney and Faso said they want to compete with those other regional arenas, and to do so they have shown a willingness to explore changes to some long-standing practices. For example, at a concert last week, concession stands at the arena offered beer and wine for sale for the first time.

That seems appropriate if the evening’s entertainment is not a school-related activity. In fact, if the venue wants to compete with others in the area for bookings, alcohol sales would seem to be key, particularly with events such as live music performances. It also could boost the bottom line for concessions.

Granted, the immediate area population is not as large as for venues centered in larger cities. However, there are more than 20,000 students enrolled at NIU, many of them within walking distance of the venue and in the perfect demographic to enjoy live entertainment. Officials said there are 8 million people within 90 miles of DeKalb. The Convocation Center is only about 10 years old, in good condition and it’s adaptable to many kinds of uses, although it lacks an ice sheet. Parking rates and other costs are reasonable compared with venues in larger cities, and the area is easily accessible from Interstate 88.

Perhaps with more aggressive marketing and a better sense of what the community would like to see at the arena when it’s not hosting athletic contests, trade shows and other events, NIU and the community both can get more benefit from the Convocation Center.

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