ASTRO-NOMICAL: The Astro held a grand opening ceremony in late May, although it opened for business last fall. (Courtesy venue)

Venue is part of $200 million City Centre development

Following a soft opening in August, the Astro in La Vista, Nebraska, has found its footing and brought an indoor/outdoor venue to the Omaha market, something its independently owned owners and operators said has been sorely needed.

“We’re two venues, but it’s all under the same roof and those stages back up to each other,” said Astro Theater and Astro Amphitheater general manager Jane Luneau. The theater can hold up to 2,300 guests while the outdoor setting can fit up to 5,000.

The Astro is part of a $200 million City Centre development in La Vista, a suburb of Omaha, which has long needed a boutique-size outdoor venue, industry officials said. Since opening, it has played host to Goo Goo Dolls, The Gaslight Anthem, Wilco, Jessie Murph, Three Dog Night, Sum 41, Tech N9ne and others.

The project is a partnership between the city, developer City+Ventures and promoters 1% Productions of Omaha and Mammoth Productions, based in Lawrence, Kansas. The two promoters have long worked together in the Omaha market and both believed strongly in the Astro project as a partnership.

“All of the back of house is shared, the dressing rooms, the loading dock, It’s all one structure, so we function as one operation,” said Luneau, whose previous experience includes venue operations roles at the Alamodome in San Antonio and Blue Arena in Loveland, Colorado. “So far, we have not done two shows at one time, but that has been a conversation and we will approach that at some point.”

Josh Hunt, CEO of Mammoth Productions, said 1% Productions owners Jim Johnson and Marc Leibowitz are real DIY guys very much in the spirit of the Midwestern independent promoter.

Hunt said, “We’ve been looking for the right situation there and found it with City+Ventures developing this project in the heart of the metro in La Vista, really in the middle of Omaha, and decided we were going to go for it.”

Johnson said the concept for the project started seven years ago, The city initially wanted something more in the 18,000-capacity range, which he felt was not the best fit for the market.

INDOOR/OUTDOOR: The indoor Astro theater seats around 2,300, depending on configuration. (Courtesy venue)

Inspired by the indoor/outdoor Stage AE in Pittsburgh and gaining other ideas from The Armory in Minneapolis and The Anthem in Washington, D.C., the plan shifted to a more modest capacity, which has gone well, Johnson said.

“It’s been awesome. Our ticket sales have been great, our concessions numbers have been great,” said Johnson, who served as project manager for the Astro couplet. “A few shows have underperformed, but there’s always going to be that, and some have overperformed, so things are doing what they should be doing, personally.”

The indoor venue features five bars, including in the lobby, VIP space and performance spaces.

“There’s plenty of concessions,” Johnson said, adding that they’re developing and fine-tuning a food program with a local catering company while handling alcohol sales in-house. “On a capacity show, we open all of the bars. It’s worked out really well where we don’t have lines for drinks.”

Hunt gives credit to the city of La Vista for being so receptive and eager for the Astro to act as an entertainment anchor for the City Centre project.

The overall enthusiasm for The Astro comes from the simple need for a modern venue of its size and experienced partners able to fill the calendar.

“There’s a lot of amenities, a proper loading dock, parking ‘for days,’ so we’re creating something that the market deserves, and people have embraced it,” Hunt added. “We had Ian Munsick over the weekend together with Treaty Oak Revival, and it crushed. They had the greatest time. It was a fun show and people loved it. We’re still getting some audiences we haven’t seen yet, because we’re pretty new.”

Upcoming shows include Lyle Lovett, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Primus, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Lamb of God and Mastodon and more.

The DIY, independently minded ethos means those involved in the project and working at the venue feel real skin in the game and take pride in their work.

OUTDOOR OMAHA: The Astro Amphitheater, shown during a Chicago concert in May, can accommodate more than 5,000 guests. (Courtesy Venue)

“These four owners have put themselves on the line, their families, their everything, to create this,” said Luneau. “There’s a little more personal investment for the team here. This is truly the blood, sweat, tears and finances of individual people.”

Luneau heads a small team that includes a guest experience manager, venue accountant, two production managers and she is in the process of hiring a food and beverage manager.

“What is so different is both Mammoth and 1% as owners provide support to that team in different ways,” she added, mentioning support in matters including legal, HR, finance, marketing and sponsorship. “Locally, 1% has a huge presence here, so they provide the physical people sometimes to come in and help. Jim and Marc are here multiple times a week lending a physical hand, so we have a lot of support.”

Another major operator recently opened its own Omaha venue while the Astro was in development. The Steelhouse opened downtown in May 2023 with The Killers. The $100 million, 3,000-capacity indoor venue was privately funded, with Live Nation as exclusive booking partner and operated by the nonprofit Omaha Performing Arts.

Hunt, who thrives as a bit of an underdog as an independent operating in the same world as major corporations, categorizes the Steelhouse opening as a deliberate attempt to interfere with The Astro, but says Mammoth’s strong partnerships with talent and other promoters give it a competitive edge.

“The thing that’s always been on our side and what makes things work for us is that we are a live and let live company,” said Hunt. “We work with other people. That’s what we do. We’ve been fighting for our lives the entire time, so it’s fine. We live in the conflict of being independent in this consolidated industry that we’re part of. That’s the way you have to be, and the key is to honor your commitments and be a good partner.”

The Astro has its own niche as being in the suburbs and offering a larger-outdoor setting as well.

“Omaha has more music venues and sports venues than people realize,” Luneau said. She didn’t realize what a vibrant city it was before moving there for the job. “There’s a lot going on here and there’s a lot of competition, but our venue is unique (in the market) with the outdoor side. Our show lineup is all over the place when it comes to types of music and age ranges. A lot of venues say they have something for everyone, but we do have that.”