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E Center still rates as top 10 show site

Versatility has been a key, W.V. arena chief says

SHARE E Center still rates as top 10 show site

Call it vindication, if you will.

Or perhaps it's just the warm glow of success.

For the fourth year in a row — accounting for all its years of operation — West Valley City's E Center has been ranked one of the nation's top 10 entertainment venues for its size by the industry's Amusement Business/Billboard Magazine poll.

And E Center officials think it proves something, not only for the beautifully detailed arena that will soon host 2002 Olympic Winter Games ice hockey events but also for West Valley City as a whole.

"The hockey fans come in one night, the Neil Diamond fans the next night," said Kevin Bruder, E Center general manager. "That we can do a James Taylor and a monster truck show in one week is pretty amazing."

The $54 million E Center was built with the idea of putting the city on the map and providing an image makeover for Salt Lake City's then-unsung neighbor, West Valley City Manager John Patterson said.

"We in West Valley City had a burning desire to make a place for ourselves in this community and in this state," he said, calling the completion of the E Center the turning point in his city's history. "We went into it knowing we wanted to one-up every other venue, and we went into it knowing when the world comes in here we want them to say, 'Wow.'"

So Patterson still got a rush in 2001 when performers like Neil Diamond, James Taylor, AC/DC, Styx and others chose the E Center for their Utah appearances.

"We certainly sought validation. We certainly sought vindication, and that has been accomplished," he said. "We haven't worried about image."

The rankings, released at the end of December, ranked the 12,500-seat E Center sixth in the United States for entertainment venues with capacities of 10,000-15,000. The $5.5 million in gross, with total attendance of 199,242 for its 43 shows, does not include Utah Grizzlies minor league hockey games.

"I think the entire staff looks forward to it. Everyone has such pride in what we're doing," Bruder said. "This really measures us against our peers. So it's a good reality check."

Bruder credits the E Center's success largely to the finishing touches the city heaped on the building: state-of-art acoustics, plush decor, cushy dressing rooms and intimate footprint for audiences. Still, the venue has had its work cut out for it finding its niche in a market that includes the Delta Center, Huntsman Center, Marriott Center, Abravanel Hall and Dee Events Center, he said.

None of the other locations on the Billboard list — from top-ranked San Diego Sports Arena to the 10th-ranked Long Beach Arena — have any competition within their market, he said.

"Salt Lake just has so many great venues to choose from," Bruder said, crediting the good relationships his staff has built with artists and promoters. "We're fortunate to be in such a world-class market and still be competitive. I don't think people realize the competition and the effort it takes."

And with concerts generally booking three months in advance, there's not much time to rest on laurels. When asked what's ahead this year after the Olympics, Bruder could only say, "I'm guessing."

"Sometimes you just feel like you're at the craps table rolling the dice," he said. "I'd like to say we'd be successful just waiting for the phone to ring, but we don't have that luxury."

But Bruder and Patterson are pretty sure that being on view for an estimated 2 billion Olympic television viewers worldwide will not hurt.

"If only we can figure out a way for (Billboard) to count the Olympic ticket sales," Bruder said, grinning. "We may have a chance to be No. 1 yet."

E-MAIL: moneill@desnews.com