What students want, the BUC doesn’t have

Robin Williams. Bruce Springsteen. Lady Gaga. The Black Eyed Peas.

Believe it or not, the BankUnited Center (BUC) has booked all these artists, but upon learning of the venue’s regulations, they took their acts elsewhere.

“I think if someone I really liked was playing at the BUC, I’d find a way to go,” senior Ivan Rocha said. “But I don’t remember any shows at the BUC that I’ve wanted to go to.”

Whether it’s the BUC’s inability to retain big talent or simply a lack of student interest, the seats of the BUC, ranked the best mid-sized venue in the world by an international trade magazine, are often empty.

“I believe the BUC is a good venue, but I feel it’s both underutilized and underappreciated by most of the student body,” senior Alex Kramer said.

General Manager of the BankUnited Center, Patrick McGrew, would love nothing more than to have more students at the BUC, but he often feels his hands are tied.

“There are a lot of politically charged barriers,” he said of the numerous contractual obligations he and his staff face when booking an event.

For instance, the BUC cannot book an event the day of or the day before a women’s or men’s basketball game or during a baseball game due to traffic municipality concerns. The BUC does not book boxing events due to a Faculty Senate resolution urging the administration to discontinue such events. The venue must use a promoter to book performances rather than purchasing them directly. And lastly, the BUC cannot sell alcohol.

According to Associate Vice President of Campus Planning and Development Janette Gavarrete, the BUC’s primary purpose is to serve students through athletics and academics, but she explained that McGrew was hired to “offset the cost of the center through community entertainment events.” The venue cost the University $50,139,000 to build.

The above restrictions, however, often hamper McGrew’s money-making efforts.

According to McGrew, the most popular touring time for artists is during the spring. With 35 home basketball games between the men’s and women’s teams, 35 additional practice days, potential NIT tournament dates and 36 home baseball games, the prospect of booking a high-quality show becomes bleak.

While athletic scheduling detracts from available dates for shows and concerts, the prohibition that hampers him most is the building’s no alcohol policy.

No Booze, No Bruce

When the facility first opened in 2003, the university and the City of Coral Gables established operational regulations, one of which prohibits the sale of alcohol.

In October 2005, Bruce Springsteen was scheduled to play at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. When Hurricane Wilma damaged the venue’s roof, the notion of the legendary Bruce playing at the BUC became a reality. The concert was only hours away, but when Springsteen got wind of the fact that no alcohol would be sold, he cancelled. Robin Williams, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Buffet and Elton John canceled for the same reason.

It is not for college shows that McGrew wishes the alcohol policy would be altered but for those shows targeting an older demographic, such as the Feb. 13 KC & The Sunshine Band concert.

Older community members do not want to come to a venue where they can’t drink, and “promoters are looking for additional revenue streams,” explained McGrew. “Beer and wine are where sales go up.”

The no alcohol policy hinders the facility’s ability to compete with other venues in South Florida. Hard Rock Live, for instance, can anticipate nearly $91 from their patrons in food, gaming and drinks alone, estimated McGrew. This enables Hard Rock to buy big shows and attract big artists.

UM administrator Gavarrete said that the university recognizes that the no alcohol policy thwarts the BankUnited Center’s capacity to compete and thus seeks to amend the policy.

“Now that the BUC has been in operation for seven years, we find that it would be a good thing [to have alcohol] for the older demographic,” Gavarette said.

She explained that the university has reached out to Coral Gables requesting that the city approve a new proposal to sell beer and wine for community events, not for basketball games or events targeting a younger audience, however.

No Risk, No Jay-Z

Another hindering prohibition is that the BankUnited Center is a “no risk” facility. Because the student activity fee does not finance the BankUnited Center, the BUC does not have the capability to go out and buy a big, expensive act.

Instead, it must employ a national promoter to book an act appropriate and plausible in price for the venue. It is the artist and/or promoter that determine the ticket price, which renders the BUC incapable of offering student discounts.

“Jay-Z doesn’t make sense in this building,” McGrew said of the rap superstar who requests $550,000 minimum for each show or 90 percent of the proceeds. McGrew explained how the BUC simply doesn’t have that kind of money and noted that student ticket prices would be astronomical if they tried to reach his asking price.

McGrew, who has organized 2,600 events during his career, said the BankUnited Center is the smallest building he’s ever run and also his favorite. McGrew clearly likes the challenge. And a challenge it is.

“We have to give them [the students] reason to come, but even if we do, they still don’t come,” he said.

No Students at the BUC

With a licensed seating capacity near 8,000, attendance at the BankUnited Center for the 2010 men’s basketball season averaged around 4,700. For the women’s team, who made it all the way to the NIT finals, attendance averaged a dismal 781.

This past February, Pat Forde of ESPN.com ranked Miami as the worst town for ACC basketball.

McGrew attributes the scanty attendance to what he likes to term “The South Beach Effect.”

“There are so many distractions here. In Durham, N.C., there’s not a lot to do,” he said.

Following a 64-62 UM win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 10, “you should have taken a picture of the student section while we beat a ranked team during a home game. It was empty. Where are all the true fans?” senior Carter Stanton said.

Stephanie Genuardi may be contacted at sgenuardi@themiamihurricane.com.

Facts about the Bank United Center

Opened in January 2003 after 18 months of construction

First basketball game – UM faces off against UNC on January 4, 2003

First concert – Coldplay performs January 22, 2003

The building launched the North American tours of Green Day, Kanye West, The Fray, and Audioslave.

In 2009, it hosted the Billboard Latin Music Awards, Premio Lo Nuestro Latin music awards, and Premios Juventud youth Latin music awards.

The Dali Llama visited for four days in September 2004.

The BUC hosted the presidential debates in 2004 and 2008.

Jay-Z and Beyonce have rehearsed at the Bank United Center.

The BUC will host the Clinton Global Initiative next month, making UM only the third university to host the event.

Pollstar, a worldwide concert industry trade magazine, voted the Bank United Center the best mid-sized venue in the world.