Whatever you call it, Draper’s Loveland Living Planet Aquarium will soon call one of those three stages “home” when it becomes the centerpiece of the aquarium’s Science Learning Campus expansion. The aquarium announced the news in April, and will host a private groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 17. According to a museum representative, Wednesday's ceremony will include a visit from the Draper City Fire Department, which will extend one of its fire ladders more than 100 feet in the air and shoot water even higher to demonstrate just how tall the Claw really is (165 feet). The expansion’s new plaza is set to open in July 2019.
How does an aquarium in Utah go about buying a world-famous U2 stage? And once they do, how do they actually make it useful? We spoke with some of the aquarium staff about the 190-ton undertaking.
A tall order
When U2 concluded its “360° Tour” in 2011, it wasn’t clear what would become of its three stages, which were used at different locations throughout the tour. Each one is 165 feet tall, and Brent Andersen, Loveland Aquarium’s founder and CEO, said the stages took approximately 10 days to set up and disassemble for any given show, hence the need for three — tour crews would leapfrog ahead of the tour dates to construct the stages, so the band could maintain a normal tour schedule. Each of the three identical stages bears a strange resemblance to the villain's underwater lair in the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Repurposing or disposing of a single stage was a major undertaking. But three? That’s a tall order.
Andersen said plans for an aquarium expansion originated in late 2014/early 2015. He and other aquarium staff wanted a learning center that could expand the aquarium’s educational mission — “Something that had elements for everybody, whether they were 2 years old or 92 years old,” Andersen said.
Part of that, he added, was some type of iconic, eye-catching monument. That monument serves a purpose beyond bragging rights: Studies show that when people are in a position of awe or wonder, they’re more open to learning.
“And the things they learn when they’re in that state, they stick with them longer, and there’s a much more lasting connection,” said Ari Robinson, the aquarium’s creative director.
Writing about the Claw, the aforementioned L.A. Times reporter said it “changes the architecture of the live concert. It not only puts the stadium audience closer to the band, it cuts holes in the fourth wall between star and fan, creating a feeling of immersion and communal connection that's startling in such a huge venue.”
Andersen had read about U2 wanting these stages to be reused as community gathering spaces. Placing a model of the Claw on the aquarium’s existing expansion site, Andersen and the aquarium staff realized it fit perfectly.
“It’s this big structure, but it’s very aesthetically pleasing.” Robinson said. “And I think it really does inspire that awe and wonder in people.”
Its physical and visual fit is one thing, but for the Claw to work financially and logistically was another matter entirely. Could this temporary concert space become a permanent structure in a climate like Utah, and could it be done with the aquarium’s budget?
Andersen said aquarium staff coordinated with Live Nation, which owned the Claw, as well as Stageco, a Belgian construction company that built the stage, and Atelier One, a British engineering firm that first engineered it, to work through the many what-ifs. Since the stages traveled to places like California and Tokyo — places that were high-risk from a seismic standpoint — the stages are far sturdier than people might realize. Andersen said the structural modifications needed for one to become a permanent structure in Draper are pretty minimal.
Transporting the Claw from its current home in Colorado isn’t cheap — “It takes 30-something truckloads just to get it here,” Andersen remarked — but the aquarium isn’t building a new monument from scratch, which he said saves them a lot of money.
“And from an environmental standpoint, that’s us being able to recycle 190 tons of steel,” Robinson added.
As for how much the aquarium paid for it, they won’t say. According to a press release, they’re raising $25 million to create the entire Science Learning Campus. Andersen said they’ve already raised $9 million for Phase 1, which includes the Claw and its accompanying plaza.
When will those 30-something truckloads bring the Claw to Draper? That depends. Andersen said it could be late fall of this year, or spring 2019, depending on weather conditions. Once it’s transported, though, “it’ll only take about 10 or so days to put it up,” Andersen said. “If you’re gone for a week, there it is. They had to design it that way for the tour.”
A stage, a beacon, a discovery vessel
According to a press release, the entire Science Learning Campus will include an 80,000 square-foot learning center, which will contain a five-story Asian cloud forest habitat and endangered species conservation center, interactive science stations, new indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, laboratories, classrooms and a banquet and conference center.
It’ll also boast an “Eco Command Center,” which will have escape rooms, simulators and team building activities. This will all be underground, right beneath the Claw. Andersen seems particularly excited about this part. Visitors can go on virtual reality missions, with the Claw as their all-purpose virtual transport.
“And now this is a discovery vessel,” he explained. “So it can fly, it can go under water, go into a volcano, go into the center of the earth, can shrink down into the size of a cell, go bigger and explore, it can go forward in time, it can go backward in time.”
It’s the kind of grand construction Andersen himself would have loved as a kid. When he was 5 years old, Andersen got a Time Life book from his grandmother called “The Sea.” From that point on, Andersen said he wanted to be a marine biologist. Getting today’s youth interested in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) remains one of the aquarium’s foremost goals.
“That book set me on a path, and here we are, a lot of years later — and this is the result,” he said. “So if we can have the same kind of impact, where just a tiny fraction of the kids who come in decide to pursue something, we might not see the full impact for 10, 20, 40 years, but cumulatively, that’s going to add up.”