Big plans for Civic Center – City hires promotor, planning upgrades and improved acoustics

Published 8:06 am Wednesday, November 23, 2022

City officials believe the Batesville Civic Center has been underutilized, and have formed an aggressive plan they hope will increase the frequency of events – especially concerts – at the 20 year old venue.

Aldermen last week approved the hiring of Oxford entertainment consultant Rodney Holley, a Batesville native, to promote the Civic Center as a destination for national music acts who are looking to fill open dates on their cross country tours.

Holley has an extensive music promotion resume, and will be tasked with a wide range of duties in the effort to transform the venue from average to frequent use on a monthly basis. The board approved a one-year contract with Holley that will pay him $3,000 a month.

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Mayor Hal Ferrell, who is leading the drive to increase the use of the Civic Center said after two decades the property is ready for an update and attention from the city.

It is time for The Batesville Civic Center to have fresh appeal. Curbside and inside,” Ferrell said. “There is no drive nor reason to eliminate current programs; however, by expanding the uses of BCC, multi-venues will serve a wider range of people.”
“Updating conference rooms with installation of electronic media and refurbishing them with paint and fixtures will provide groups, industries, and businesses a more efficient and conveniently located meeting place or training site,” he said. “Designating hours/days and spaces for inside floor walking lanes, indoor tennis, pickle ball and such physical activities would be great for additional single or group participants of all ages.”

Holley presented board members last week with a list of proposed events he has already begun to compile for 2023. His goal is to have a major music event each month, a feat he said is achievable because bands are searching for places to fill open dates.

Tons of bands are getting back on the road in 2023,” Holley said. “I feel like music fans are ready to see live music again and with the right combination of performers and timing this could be a win-win for both the Batesville Civic Center and live music fans from Panola County and the region. “

Holley told aldermen he has made preliminary contact with representatives Tracy Bryd, Mark Chestnutt, Kentucky Headhunters, Marty Stuart, Georgia Satellites, Diamond Rio, Vanilla Ice, Tone Loc, Color Me Badd, DJ Drumm, and Batesville native Jameson Rodgers.

The Batesville Civic Center has for years been limited in the types of events hosted because acoustics were not designed for those types of events. Rather, equestrian events and other shows including kart and motorcycle racing have accounted for most of the special bookings in recent years.

That problem will also be solved soon, according to Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar, who has worked closely with the city board, Civic Center director Roy Hyde, and an Ole Miss acoustics expert.

Azar, in a former career, also worked in the music industry, managing national acts and overseeing sound for The Outfield, Hank Williams III, his brother Steve Azar, and many others. Azar, who has set up sound for major concerts at Madison Square Gardens in New York and London’s Wembley Stadium, said Batesville’s acoustic challenges can be overcome without deep expenses.

“I was very impressed with Professor David Woolworth’s plan to correct our 22-year-old acoustic issues at the Batesville Civic Center. Not only is it an effective fix, but it seems to be affordable considering alternatives. It will pay for itself simply by expanding the range of use the building,” Azar said.

“The problem he uncovered was that the placement of the speakers are too high and not well positioned. That means you have to turn them up too loudly to reach the people seated and on the floor below.  When you turn them up that loud, you also add more echo in a concrete building that compounds the problem. Think of how our churches sounded back when they only had two big speakers in the front. Most churches now have smaller speakers covering two to four sets of pews each. The result equals less volume, less echo, and more clarity, and we hope to do the same in the Civic Center.”

“We hope to also seek consultation from local experts such as Bob O’Neal. Bob is a Batesville native and was the production manager for world-class international acts like Tina Turner, and years later became the production manager of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and opened the new FedEx Forum.”

Azar also said besides the entertainment opportunities that add to quality of life standards for Panola residents, the Civic Center can be an important tool for attracting new business, industry, and visitors.

“From the economic development standpoint, our community will be improving quality of place. This Civic Center upgrade will offer citizens events on a more regular basis and make Panola County a more attractive place to live.”

“We plan to promote the Civic Center to walkers during the day and offer background music. It won’t be heated or cooled, but you can get your exercise in a safe place,” Azar said. “The events will also attract  outside our communities and increase tourism income. Combined, all of these quality of pPlace improvements will increase appraisal rates and attract more housing developers. It’s an awesome snowball effect.”