Seasoned concert-goers who walk into the resurrected Forum in Inglewood after it opens Wednesday with the first of six Eagles concerts may be struck as much by what's missing as by what's been added to the 46-year-old former sports palace.
The overhead electronic scoreboard and basketball backboards that were integral to the Forum during its 31-year reign as Southern California's premiere sports arena? Gone.
Hard-plastic sports-arena seats? Gone — replaced by movie theater-style high-back upholstered seats.
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The blue exterior color added in 1988 when Great Western Bank secured naming rights? Gone, replaced by gleaming coats of the original shade now known as "Forum red."
All the missing elements add up to what the revamped Forum is: a new kind of arena, one thoroughly reconfigured with music and live entertainment as the top priorities, rather than subservient to resident sports teams.
It's the outcome of a $100-million investment by Madison Square Garden Co. as the New York firm's first West Coast venture. In some respects, it's a $100-million gamble as MSG rolls the dice in hopes that it can create a viable business at the arena level without a sports team to anchor the calendar, as has been the rule at arenas across the country.
"We don't know how things are going to go," said MSG Executive Chairman James L. Dolan, who has overseen the recent $1-billion overhaul of Madison Square Garden itself and major rehab efforts on other historic New York venues, including Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre. "But I'm very hopeful. We've tried to think of everything we could that would make it [work], and if it does — if we are right — I think it does change the game."
The return of the Forum may well represent a game-changer both in the healthy concert business, if aging arenas in other cities can be profitably retooled for live entertainment, as well as for the city of Inglewood and its environs, which have struggled as fortunes faded at the Forum and neighboring Hollywood Park.
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Absent any resident sports teams, the Forum has been redesigned to maximize the concert-going experience. Concrete walls and partitions have been dressed up with black fabric to absorb sonic reverberations that can wreak havoc with music.
As for the luxury corporate sky boxes that help newly built arenas pay the bills, but which push upper-deck seating for fans even farther from the stage on concert nights—the top row of the Forum is 80 feet above the arena floor, compared to 110 feet at Staples Center--they never existed at the Forum, and none have been added.
Musicians will find that in place of the athletic locker rooms they've often had to use as makeshift dressing rooms, the Forum has reinvented those backstage spaces as elegantly appointed artist rest and relaxation spaces. For today's elaborate stage shows, crews will now have the ability to hang 350,000 pounds of equipment from the ceiling, to which 230 tons of steel support have been added.
Now the gussied-up Forum is positioned to compete with the venue that once stole its fire. Not that Staples Center will be rolling over.
"It's another large venue coming into an already crowded market," said Staples Senior Vice President and General Manager Lee Zeidman. "I don't know how many shows they'll have to have to make a profit, but at the end of the day, I think we still have the best artist and fan ameninties. Coupled with two hotels next door, 19 restaurants in the L.A. Live complex and three more ready to open up and our location downtown, I think Staples Center is going to continue to be the region's preferred chioce for arena and concert entertainment."
PHOTO: New life for the Forum in Inglewood
The Forum was designed by architect Charles Luckman (he also designed the original Madison Square Garden arena) and built by Lakers' owner Jack Kent Cooke. After opening in 1967, it reigned as the region's premiere sports arena for more than 30 years, until billionaire developer Philip Anschutz's Anschutz Entertainment Group opened Staples Center 10 miles away.
During the 2000s, the Forum saw only sporadic activity while it was owned by the Faithful Central Bible Church, which sold it to MSG last year for $23.5 million.
Today, however, the Forum could take a serious bite out of its competitor's concert business because many of Staples calendar dates are consumed by its resident NBA and NHL sports franchises: the Lakers, the Clippers and the Kings. Those teams keep Staples busy more than 120 nights a year, although Staples officials downplay any limitations sports activity presents for concert bookings.
"We put on 53 concerts last year," Zeidman saidbesting the arena's previous high of 38. "We're going into our 14th year, and We've never had a problem routing in an artist who wanted to play Staples Center."