About a dozen years ago, it looked like all that was in Merriweather Post Pavilion’s future was bulldozers. But a determined community teamed with local legislators to turn their dissatisfaction with the waning condition of the venue — and the lack of top artists it attracted — and used it as fuel to fight for their prized amphitheater.
In 2004, Howard County tapped I.M.P., the Bethesda, Md.-based company that owns the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., to take over operations of Merriweather.
Each year since, I.M.P. has made improvements — from the food, to bathrooms, to environmental sustainability, to adding fanciful art. The number of shows has increased, attendance has grown, and Rolling Stone Magazine has recognized Merriweather as among one of the best amphitheaters in the nation, noting that the venue is as far from cookie-cutter as can be.
Now, as it is about to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, Merriweather’s future is even more certain. The Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a nonprofit community organization that acquired ownership of Merriweather in November, just inked a 40-year lease with I.M.P., ensuring that the cultural oasis will continue to be operated with the fierce sense of loyalty to artists, patrons and neighbors.
I.M.P. is three years into a five-year, $55 million renovation plan. Already complete: New box office, concessions, restrooms, stage expansion – 62’ grid height, 82’ wide Brazilian Redwood floor with 48’ spinning turntable insert enabling 5-minute set-changes – lighting, and nearly 15,000 square feet of dressing rooms and backstage amenities.
The new backstage is designed to resemble a motel complete with a pool. That’s right, a real pool, including a smaller private pool for the ever-increasing needs of touring artists’ for family time.
Endless rooms and lobby and lounging areas, plus multiple side-stage private viewing platforms, will tempt touring road warriors to get off those buses and enjoy the unique surroundings that have made Merriweather feel like home, and unlike any other venue.
“I have to say, this really is the nicest venue I’ve ever seen,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P., promoter and operator of Merriweather and co-owner of the 9:30 Club.