The Front and Center of the East in Atlanta: New venue aligns with Anthem, Mission Ballroom


Courtesy of Garey GomezBallasta new 2,300-seat club designed by Perkins & Will, serves as an anchor for the redevelopment of a historic Atlanta neighborhood.

ATLANTA – Jamgrass sensation Billy Strings helped put The Eastern on the must-see map for emerging artists, selling four shows last week at the new 2,300-seat club here.

The new $ 17 million site opened on September 1 as part of the revitalization of the Atlanta Dairies, a historic district about two miles southeast of the city’s downtown core.

The Eastern is a joint venture between Zero Mile, a local developer, and AEG Presents. Zero Mile also operates and books Terminal West and Variety Playhouse in Atlanta and the Georgia Theater in Athens.

Atlanta’s newer club is part of an area that occupied a dairy co-op for over 60 years before shutting down permanently due to a combination of financial problems and a tornado in the spring of 2008 that caused much of destruction in the neighborhood, Atlanta Journal- Constitution reported.

But like many cities in the Southeast that are redeveloping old communities into entertainment districts, the Dairies have experienced a renaissance. Over the past six years, the area has seen the opening of new bars and restaurants, aimed at young professionals.

The Eastern, a new construction alone, spans 37,000 square feet. The general admission venue has four levels above ground and outdoor areas for relaxing.

Perkins & Will, an architect well versed in sports and entertainment facilities, designed the facility after planning other projects under the adaptive reuse and urban renewal related to Atlanta dairies.

The concert hall is meant to blend in with existing structures in the neighborhood, said Victoria Walsh, senior project manager and senior partner at Perkins & Will.

The property was a brownfield site adjacent to a busy interstate highway. Project officials saw an opportunity to help complete a new urban courtyard that was part of the first phase of development, Walsh said.

Inside the club, the ‘fan-shaped’ floor plan effectively shortens the viewing distance to the stage to provide better lines of sight and the multiple levels maximize capacity in a relatively small footprint, she declared.

Perkins & Will previously worked with Zero Mile on Variety Playhouse renovations. It opened as a cinema in 1940 and has been a club for the past 30 years.

The architect also drew inspiration from the developer’s other sites to design The Eastern.

“We didn’t want the building to overwhelm its neighbors, so we used the sloping geography to our advantage,” Walsh said.

“By nesting the building into the landscape, we were able to create an intimate pedestrian space in the yard while still providing enough buffer to protect the development of Interstate 20,” she said.

The Eastern offers a combination of jam, hip-hop, pop groups and comedians such as Tig Notaro and RuPaul. Axs, owned by AEG, is the club’s ticket provider.

Rick Mueller, president of North America for AEG Presents, declined to discuss the venue’s first 3.5 months of operation.

Bill Orner, manager of Billy Strings, said he liked the new club style represented by The Eastern, as well as the Mission Ballroom in Denver, Colorado and the Anthem in Washington, DC The band performed at both venues, which have opened over the past five years.

AEG Presents manages Mission Ballroom; IMP operates Anthem. They are both a bit bigger than The Eastern. Orner said all three theaters sounded good with improved production capabilities that stand out from older theaters.

The only thing The Eastern lacks is a loading dock, but that’s typical of many 2,500-seat sites, Orner said. The four locker rooms and the production office are a plus, he said.

“The only thing I would change is that the catering is upstairs,” Orner said. “It’s still technically behind the scenes but you have to take an elevator to get there.

The Eastern seems to be an enjoyable experience for fans in part due to their favorable sight lines, he said.

“I spend most of my time behind the curtain, but (the new clubs) look bigger than they really are, which is good,” said Orner. “They pay attention to detail when it comes to making sure everyone has a little space of their own. ”

The Eastern Rooftop Bar at the top of the building, an outdoor space with a rooftop, serves heavy appetizers like burger sliders, chicken pot stickers, and veggie spring rolls. Prices range from $ 5 for fries to $ 14 for sliders. The outdoor bar is also the club’s smoking area.

Inside the site, the toilets and smaller bars are well laid out to avoid bottlenecks with foot traffic.

Alcoholic beverage prices, $ 10 for 16-ounce beers and seltzer, aren’t outrageous compared to amphitheatres.

Watching the crowds at the Billy Strings show on December 11, it’s always worth arriving early to be in the best position to see the show. In some places the upper levels were stacked five deep with customers standing.

Looking to the future, Billy Strings continues its momentum with a busy touring schedule and larger venues.

In 2019, the last time the group performed in Atlanta, the group performed at Terminal West, capacity 625. Now the quartet has moved on to facilities that have almost quadrupled the size of that club, Orner said.

Some are mid-sized arenas like ExploreAsheville.com Arena in North Carolina and Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

In Asheville, Billy Strings played a three-night Halloween weekend in the 7674-seat arena.

Next up in an arena is a half-house show at Greensboro Coliseum, where capacity will be 6,800 in the lower bowl for the Feb. 11 concert, said Scott Johnson, deputy director of the facility. The North Carolina Coliseum has 21,000 seats in total.

“Most are sold out or nearly sold out,” Orner said. “Theaters with a capacity of 3,000 to 7,000 are where we will be next year. “

About Octavia A. Dorr

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