A major upgrade means that one of the oldest venues in Atlantic City is now a new place to play.
And Fran Rodowicz thinks concertgoers and young touring acts should add the Adrian Phillips Theater inside Boardwalk Hall to the short list of great places for live shows.
The 3,200-person capacity theater, formerly known as the Adrian Phillips Ballroom, was recently upgraded with a $750,000 sound and lighting system. This will allow events - concerts, boxing, mixed martial arts, corporate events and parties - to be booked more affordably.
The idea is to bring in some newer musical acts to Atlantic City, where casinos have the market cornered on performers from the 1950s to the 1980s.
"It's a beautiful room here, the Adrian Phillips room. In my mind, it was underutilized," said Rodowicz, general manager of Boardwalk Hall and the Atlantic City Convention Center for management company Spectra. "We thought it was an important purchase to bring it back to life and also to make things more turnkey and bring more acts to Atlantic City in this space."
Boardwalk Hall houses two of the four biggest indoor venues in the resort: the 14,000-capacity arena and the Adrian Phillips Theater. The theater is on par with the 5,000-capacity arena at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and the 2,400-capacity Event Center at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
But unlike those venues, Boardwalk Hall doesn't book its own shows. It is dependent on entertainment companies such as Live Nation and independent promoters such as BRE Presents.
An official after-party for comedian Kevin Hart's Dec. 31 show was the first event to make use of the theater's new setup, which was installed in the fall.
In one week's time, 1,000 people bought tickets to the after-party, Rodowicz said. It is highly unusual for a venue to both host a headlining performance and handle an after-party in a different space under the same roof. Most buildings don't have the capability to do it.
The second event held in the upgraded theatre was Adam Lopez versus Mario Munoz boxing match on Feb. 19, which was televised live by SHOWTIME.
Rapper Nas, 42, appears on March 19 in the theater. It will be his first appearance in the resort since he performed in 2010 at the House of Blues Atlantic City in the now defunct Showboat Casino Hotel.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band, a blues-rock group, is scheduled to make its Atlantic City debut in the theater 8 p.m. May 14.
Tedeschi, 45, a vocalist and guitarist, last performed in Atlantic City as part of the Experience Hendrix show in 2010 at Caesars Atlantic City. Guitarist Derek Trucks, 36, Tedeschi's husband, will be making his first appearance in Atlantic City since 2010 when he played at the Taj as a member of the Allman Brothers Band.
Rodowicz said the theater's program could be similar to what the House of Blues offered, a wider array of musical styles and newer acts than the casinos usually host.
When Spectra took over the management contract of the Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall in 2014, Rodowicz spoke to 41-year veteran employee Chris Hartnett, the system manager for the Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall.
Rodowicz said he wanted to figure out what could be done with capital purchases to create revenue and to bring some things back to life at Boardwalk Hall.
The Adrian Phillips Ballroom has always been a beautiful room, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beach and Boardwalk. But its technical capability hadn't kept up with the times.
The lighting and sound system had been installed during renovations in the early 1980s, Hartnett said.
"It was good for the time, but it outgrew it. That's when there was still a convention center (inside the hall), and they wanted us to pay more attention to the conventions end of the business than the shows," Hartnett said.
Under the old system, the rental, installation and labor costs of putting sound and light equipment into the room on a per-show basis could add at least $10,000 to the cost of staging concerts, Hartnett said.
"They would never use what we had since 1982. Basically, the design of 1982 was for conventions and what I like to say were talking head shows, a speech or something like that. Obviously, you need less audio if there is one guy talking or a couple of people talking, and that is what it was designed for," Hartnett said.
The new lighting system features four trusses with more than 75 LED lighting fixtures, whereas the old system had no LED lighting, Hartnett said. The building had a truss, but it was not useable for lights in the ballroom, Hartnett said.
"A touring show with lighting, they build a truss where they can pull their lights up inside the truss and ship it, so they are not going to come in and use our truss, which is empty, and take out all their lights and put them in," Hartnett said.
Rodowicz hopes the work to improve the theater is not over. He also would like to refinish the floor, replace the window shades and add lighting to the arches and columns inside the room. He is talking with the local historical society to get approvals.
"Coming from Philadelphia and seeing shows at the Tower, or going to shows at the Keswick, going to the Academy of Music, these buildings should be preserved, but brought up to today's standards of what people expect in an entertainment venue, but still preserving the historic nature of the venue," Rodowicz said.