How many music venues are too many music venues?
The revival of the Metropolitan Opera House, the giant white box that inhabits a city block on the corner of North Broad and Poplar Streets built in 1908 by impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, as a concert venue is good news for historical preservation advocates and the growth of nightlife in North Philadelphia.
Developer Eric Blumenfeld — who's also behind the renovation of the nearby Divine Lorraine — has plans to sink $35 million into the 4000 capacity theatre. Yesterday, Curbed Philly reported that Blumenfeld said that dominant concert promoter Live Nation has signed onto the project, telling the Philadelphia Historical Commission that "right now, our focus is to make Live Nation happy."
A Met renovated to its former glory would be a sparkling jewel on North Broad. When it was built, the hulking structure was called the Philadelphia Opera House, and it served variously as a movie theater, church and home to boxing matches before going dark as a music venue in the 1980s.
It would be certainly be an intriguing addition to the Philly concert scene, but it's hard to imagine the Met becoming a venue with anything close to a nightly concert schedule. (Live Nation has not revealed specific plans for the building, and did not comment for this story.)
Indeed, when word got out last year that Blumenfeld planned to bring a national promoter in to book The Met, music scene speculation was that it wouldn't be Live Nation because the promoters, who are locally based in Bala Cynwyd, had recently opened The Fillmore Philadelphia, their 2500 capacity showcase venue in Fishtown. They also operate the 3000 capacity Tower Theatre in Upper Darby.
And those aren't the only spaces competing for acts that are too big for clubs like the World Cafe Live (which holds 650), Union Transfer (capacity 1200) or the Trocadero (also 1200).
On South Broad, there's also the Merriam Theater (which fits 1870), the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall (2500) and Academy of Music (also 2500). Also in play is the Electric Factory, which is now under the control of Live Nation competitor AEG Live, which also holds 2500 to 3000 concert goers.
And of course in the summer, options expand further with outdoor spaces such as Live Nation's Festival Pier, which holds 6000, and the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, which holds up to 15000 but is quite comfortable for bands who draw three or four thousand under the amphitheatre roof.
So where will the Met fit in? At 4000 capacty, it's slightly larger than it's other plush, seated South Broad competitors, like Verizon Hall and the Academy, which the building also went toe to toe with when Hammerstein brought opera companies to town early in the last century.
One can imagine an act like, say, Neil Young, who played two sold out acoustic nights at the Academy in 2014, filling up the larger space with ease, or acts such as the Flaming Lips or Sting, who sold out the Fillmore this winter, moving up to a larger space while still maintaining a special occasion theater vibe.
One thing's for sure: The Met is a mightily impressive space. Last fall, before serious renovations began, the capacious room hosted a Jazz Lives Philadelphia event with Ted Nash of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as headliner.
You had to sign a waiver before entering, and as Nash and a band of talented young Philadelphians swung into John Coltrane's "Naima," it felt like a special treat to be inside a rarely accessed landmark of Philadelphia cultural history, that in its current state was a grand, beautiful ruin. Also, the event took place on a particularly chilly November night, and as you looked around the vast, eerily beautiful space you couldn't help thinking, 'Man, it's going to be really expensive to heat this place."