WSU Tri-Cities, Riverfront Concerts sign deal

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 5, 2014 

Summers at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland are about to get louder.

University officials have signed an agreement with Riverfront Concerts, a Kennewick-based events promoter, to provide outdoor events at the north Richland campus beginning as early as this summer.

WSU Tri-Cities' location along the Columbia River and outdoor stage built by the Columbia Center Rotary Charity a year ago, combined with a regional appetite for music and culture, makes the campus an ideal venue, officials said.

"We're right on the water and there's enough people to support it," said Marco Solferino, co-owner of Riverfront Concerts.

What acts Riverfront Concerts will be lining up has yet to be seen, though, and Solferino said it's too early to say what will be delivered this summer and what ticket prices could be.

Students, administrators and others said bringing outdoor events and entertainment to the campus would go far in strengthening not just the university but its ties to the community. The arrangement also was praised by Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young who listed promotion of the arts as one of his priorities when he took the helm of the university almost a year ago.

"A university campus should be a hub of creativity and culture for its students and for the entire community. I strongly believe that all degree programs -- even the most technical -- benefit when the arts are infused into learning," he said in a statement to the Herald.

Riverfront Concerts, which began organizing shows in the Tri-Cities about six years ago, previously brought Grammy-winning musicians such as Randy Travis, Chris Isaak and Robert Cray to concert series in Kennewick's Columbia Park.

The company hasn't arranged shows since 2011 following the death of business partner Ken Phebus in April 2012. Negotiations with the university also delayed Riverfront Concerts' return, Solferino said, but he and co-owner Monty Mills are hard at work to get acts lined up.

"We're just excited about the partnership," Solferino said.

Riverfront Concerts has been primarily known for concerts, but the contract with the university calls for a slew of possible offerings, including culinary events and cultural performances throughout the campus.

WSU Tri-Cities is not paying the company for its services. Riverfront Concerts will be responsible for all costs and will be able to charge admission, though some of that revenue could be shared with the university.

"We are excited about what kinds of performances will be on our stage -- with the Columbia River as a backdrop -- and on other campus locations," said Lori Selby, vice chancellor for finance and administration.

It's too early to say when the first concert could be, Solferino said. The company was working to line up at least one event for this summer but it could be difficult to book acts this far into spring. A full schedule of events is expected for the summer 2015.

The caliber of musicians brought in for events will play a factor in admission costs, as will expenses such as bringing in a main stage, as the Rotary stage is too small for large performances, Solferino said.

"We're going to make sure ticket prices are affordable for everyone," he said.

The Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities is floating the possibility of subsidizing student tickets for the first concert, said President Jose Magana. The arrangement between the promoters and university is ideal as student groups don't have the resources to arrange such large events.

"From the student perspective, it's an exciting idea. It's a new idea," he said.

Columbia Center Rotary Charity spent $80,000 to build the outdoor stage between the Columbia River and WSU Tri-Cities' West Building, said charity President Mike Rader. He said he's glad that everyone in the Tri-Cities, not just students, will be able to benefit from it.

"We want to see it used," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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