By Cary Shuman
The Lynn Veterans Memorial Auditorium and its transformation in to one of the premier entertainment venues in the region is one of the true success stories of Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy administration.
From its early days of two shows a year before Kennedy took office, the auditorium’s schedule now features 50 dates a year and some well-known performing artists. The downtown district bustles with activity on show nights, and at least two restaurants, PF O’Sullivan’s and Rossetti’s, point to the success of the auditorium as a major reason they branched out to Lynn.
The auditorium, located inside City Hall, was renovated in 2005 during Mayor Chip Clancy’s administration with work primarily being done on the seats, the carpeting, the drapes, and the sound system.
“The auditorium was underutilized from the time it was renovated until the time I took office [in 2010],” said Kennedy. “They were only having a couple of ticketed shows a year, and they weren’t getting A-list names. And a lot of the bookings were done in conjunction with the managing agent for the Lowell Auditorium so we were getting – I’d almost consider them leftovers from that venue.”
That’s when Kennedy put the spotlight on the Lynn Auditorium, sensing that the venue could be fashioned “to bring people back in to Lynn and give them a reason to come and visit us.”
The mayor’s first priority was having the auditorium air-conditioned: “We would never be able to gather any momentum if we’re shutting down from April to October because it got too hot in there.”
Lynn received a matching grant from the state for the installation of air conditioners. Kennedy, in coordination with auditorium General Manager Jamie Marsh, brought on board Henry Ryan for the position of professional booking agent.
“Henry had been working at City Hall in another capacity and was advising on shows, but I wanted to make it a full-time position so all of his time and energy was spent on utilizing his contacts in the entertainment industry and getting us some higher-quality shows.”
Next on Kennedy’s agenda was the hiring of a professional bartending service and security service at the auditorium that was beginning to attract audiences close to its 2,200-seat capacity.
“We had been using family and friends of City Hall employees that were pouring the beer and wine at the shows, and I thought that put us at an elevated risk of liability, and it didn’t present the auditorium as a facility to be reckoned with when we didn’t have a professional bartending service. We brought in a professional security firm, as well, for the larger shows.”
Kennedy made Ticketmaster available so patrons could purchase tickets in advance and preview the list upcoming shows in the Boston area: “That’s helped tremendously, both widening our reach and bringing in greater numbers for the shows.”
Performance artists have lauded the acoustics and sound system in the auditorium and spoken highly of the professional appearance and comfort of the dressing rooms and the backstage amenities. Kennedy said the city received a matching grant to renovate the dressing rooms.
“The dressing rooms looked like jail cells for the longest time, with bars on the windows, dimly lit, ugly green paint – and we were able to turn it in to a really comfortable facility for the artists, Kennedy said.
Musical groups ZZ Top, Deep Purple, and Alice Cooper and Ann Anderson (of Jethro Tull) have been among the most popular shows on the schedule. Gladys Knight and Smoky Robinson were the first Motown acts to perform in the auditorium.
The economic impact for restaurants on show night in Lynn is huge, according to the mayor.
“The popular downtown restaurants can have 3-4 turnovers of tables in a night and that’s a huge number,” said Kennedy. “I was at RF O’Sullivan’s before a show and Mr. O’Sullivan was turning people away at the door.”
Each year Kennedy and her team travel to New York City for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Convention where they meet with agents at various booths for the purpose of selecting shows for the coming year.
At the recent Lynn Community Association State of the City Address, Kennedy spoke proudly of the success of the auditorium and how well received it has been by her constituents and the North Shore in general.
“The success of the auditorium is a result of the team we have assembled – obviously Henry doing the booking, and Jamie doing the management and the financials for it, and me giving it a direction of music that appeals to the demographic in and around Lynn. We’ve found classic rock to be our real niche, but we’re branching out in to other areas. We’ve had Johnny Mathis and Paul Anka. We’ve had Celtic Irish bands. And we have Keith Swett coming, which will be our first real venture in to hip hop,” Kennedy said.
The mayor’s final message to those residents who have made the Lynn Auditorium a focal point for their entertainment: “I just want to have people keep coming to the auditorium, keep enjoying the shows, and keep grab some dinner beforehand – and enjoy themselves here in Lynn.”