Baltimore Revamp: The $250 million transformation of the 61-year-old arena is complete. (Courtesy MGC Media)

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND — The city of Baltimore no longer has a hungry heart for live music.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band performed a stunning, emotionally charged 28-song set for the grand opening of the city’s reconstructed arena, renamed CFG Bank Arena, ushering in a welcomed community renaissance built on the power of performance. “Bruce Springsteen knew what we were doing here. He felt as passionate about the city as we did and he made a decision to open the building for us. But once you book the Boss, you better make that date work,” laughed Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of Oak View Group, parent company of VenuesNow and Pollstar. “The fact that we get to celebrate, as he calls it, ‘a hot sweaty hall’ where people can come and the acoustics are perfect and the fans and the artist both have a great time. This is going to be a celebration and it’s the beginning of a very long journey where we can bring people together and make this a special place.”

Originally opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center, CFG Bank Arena, a 14,000-seat facility, is owned and operated by OVG. The $250 million rebuild, a private investment, is a partnership with the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), Fundamental Advisors and Thirty Five Ventures (35V), co-founded by NBA star and Maryland native Kevin Durant and business partner Rich Kleiman, plus Grammy award-winning artist Pharrell Williams.

The reconstructed arena, driven by live music as the anchor tenant, is an important cornerstone of downtown Baltimore’s west side rebirth with the hopes of driving additional investment to generate potential economic growth for the city. “We did in 18 months what folks couldn’t get done in 35 years, and we did it for the price of ‘free.99’ for the taxpayers of Baltimore,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “We are going to be a mecca for music and entertainment. This is what we’re talking about, showing the renaissance of Baltimore.” He hailed the public-private partnership that brought a “$200 million investment into the heart of the city.”

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said, “It’s not just about a building and infrastructure. It’s about how we see ourselves. The truth is progress is not inevitable. Progress happens because we’re intentional about it, because we make decisions, we push forward even when it’s not easy.” According to the 2022 Visit Baltimore annual report, recreation and entertainment in the city accounted for 13 percent of Baltimore’s overnight visitor spending, $1.8 billion. By attracting A-list talent and increasing the number of events at the venue, the impact can be felt beyond the box office.

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Charm City: Arena renovations included developing new premium club spaces, including the 900-capacity Fearless Club (pictured), plus 38 new suites. SCI Architects designed the upgrades. (Photo courtesy MGC Media)

“The economic potential of this project only goes up from here,” added Moore. “What we see is that the CFG Bank Arena is going to be a place to go, it’s going to be a destination. But it’s also going to be a place where we can drive imagination. We’re going to bring in new businesses and vendors. A home for new entrepreneurs to share their craft and sell their products. A place that is not only going to benefit what’s happening here in the arena, but benefit everything around the arena as well.”

“People can talk about, ‘This is a beginning. This is a renaissance. This is a rebuild.’ I don’t see it that way at all,” said Leiweke, who was the youngest general manager in pro sports in 1980 when he launched his career with the MISL’s Baltimore Blast at the arena he’s now resurrected. “I see it as what a public/private partnership should be: about a community that is in fact, Charm City.”

Raze the Roof

CFG Bank Arena is built on the site of Old Congress Hall where the Continental Congress met in 1776. The last major renovation at the facility was completed in 1986 when it was Baltimore Arena and later renamed First Mariner Arena and Royal Farms Arena. The venue was home to the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets from 1963 until 1973, and multiple pro hockey franchises as well as soccer, lacrosse and indoor tennis. In its heyday, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Ray Charles performed there.

CFG Bank Arena General Manager Frank Remesch started working at the venue in 1988 as an electrician before working his way up to GM in 2004. “This is my 35th year and they’ve been promising me a new building for 35 years,” he said. “I’m not making that up. From day one we talked about it. Thirty-five years later, we finally got it. It’s surreal.”

Renovations to the arena included new cushioned seats in the bowl and 38 new suites, refurbished concourses and upgraded concessions. The building’s signature spiked roof was preserved. Multimedia studio Moment Factory created videoboard content for the marquee, new lighting and an illuminated facade.

World-class acoustics were added to amplify the audio experience; next-generation touchless and self-serve technologies for food and beverage and merchandise purchases to minimize transaction times; along with renovations to the back of house. Structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting and fire protection upgrades were made, as well as updating the arena’s communications infrastructure. “This is a fascinating building with a bold vision,” said Chris Granger, president of OVG 360, the company’s facility operations division.

“It’s privately funded. It’s economically inclusive. It’s environmentally sustainable and hospitality forward. There are few buildings that can tell the story this building will.” SCI Architects, the same firm that planned Wells Fargo Center’s $350 million renovation in Philadelphia, was the lead designer and Clark Construction Group was the general contractor. The local firm with a national reputation has provided construction services for most sports facilities within Baltimore/ D.C., including Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, Capital One Arena, Nationals Park and FedEx Field.

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Shining Stars: Oak View Group chairman & CEO Tim Leiweke (L) joins Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott, the band’s Philip Bailey, CFG Bank Arena GM Frank Remesch and the band’s Ralph Johnson during a private gig on April 6. (Photo courtesy MGC Media)

CFG Bank Arena’s restoration produced more than 500 construction jobs over 12 months. OVG was committed to prioritizing small, local, diverse businesses throughout the construction process and set a goal of awarding 27% and 10% of construction subcontracts to minority business enterprises and women’s business enterprises, respectively. “We remain committed to working with strong minority and women-owned businesses to transform Baltimore’s iconic arena into one of the most premier world-class venues in the country,” said Steve Collins, OVG president of global venue development and special projects. “Not only will the arena attract larger national events and live entertainment, but it will radically change the energy and fabric of downtown Baltimore and boost the local economy.”

Inclusion extended to equity partners. Fee and interest income derived from OVG and CFG Bank Arena’s relationship with a Baltimore-based Black bank, Harbor Bank of Maryland, go to support their operations and foster additional lending to consumers, small businesses and nonprofits. Brandon Comer, managing partner of Comer Capital, is co-founder and chief banking officer of the National Black Bank Foundation, and advocates on behalf of and structures deals for the benefit of all Black banks in the U.S., including Harbor. “When entities such as OVG expand their universe of financial partners to include those mission driven institutions most proximate to the communities they serve, they are assisting in closing the racial wealth gap,” said Comer, who called the project “a model of inclusive thought.”

Take That to the Bank

This is the first arena sponsorship for CFG Bank, the largest bank headquartered in Baltimore. Terms of the 10-year deal were not disclosed, but in addition to securing naming rights to the arena, the partnership includes exterior and interior signage, exclusive benefits to CFG Bank clients, cardholders and team members and a new community engagement program.

“At CFG Bank, we pride ourselves on being more than a traditional bank,” said Bill Wiedel, CFG Bank CEO and president. “We are entrepreneurial and take a bold approach to everything we do, allowing us to achieve what many others cannot. This partnership is a great example of how we do things differently to make change happen for the better, for our community, clients, and team members.”

CFG Bank looked beyond a traditional sponsorship according to OVG officials. They sought an opportunity to be an engaged partner and make a difference in the community. “We are like-minded people with very similar goals,” said Dan Griffis, president of global partnerships for OVG. “OVG is a positive disruption towards entertainment and CFG Bank is trying to change the community for the better and taking a progressive stance.”

Hello, Baltimore!

Colin Tarbert, president and CEO of the City of Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s economic development agency, said that OVG’s industry knowledge and enthusiasm for the city were key considerations during the arena RFP process.

“There were a couple of reasons we were excited to work with OVG,” Tarbert said. “One was their enthusiasm, in particular Tim’s enthusiasm, for Baltimore and what this could be. No. 2 was their approach to how they would redevelop and reimagine the arena. They stood out in terms of their knowledge of how to make this building work.”

Leiweke said, “As someone who believes that these arenas, these stadiums and live entertainment can be the heart and soul of a community, we are really putting that theory to test here. Because, if we are right, then this can also change the entire perception of one’s community.”

“Baltimore had been on our list since the inception of the company,” said Francesca Bodie, president of business development for OVG. “The supply was there. The demand was there, but they did not have a facility that reflected the community and what they deserved to have.”

The venue is the seventh arena launched by OVG in 16 months, accomplished while coming out of COVID, during an economic downturn, in the midst of national supply chain challenges and staffing shortages.

“This wasn’t our biggest renovation or development in the country, in fact it’s the smallest one we’ve done to date, but I’m the most proud of the team on this one because we overcame all the odds,” Leiweke said.

Tarbert said the opening is a perfectly timed “shot in the arm” for the city. “It’s not just the number of acts, but the quality of acts that are coming,” he said. “We are getting bigger names, bigger shows, bigger tours coming to the area that we didn’t have before the renovation. There is going to be a lot more activity and excitement downtown.”

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Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band oficially reopened CFG Bank Arena on April 7. (James Hendershot)

Artists that will kick off their tours in the next months at the new CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore include Bryan Adams’ “So Happy It Hurts 2023” with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on June 6 and Queen + Adam Lambert’s “The Rhapsody Tour,” Oct. 4-5. “Queen is starting their tour in Baltimore,” Bodie said. “What an amazing reflection of the vibrancy of the building. That speaks for itself. That’s exactly what we always intended to do.”

Upcoming shows include Lizzo (May 9); Janet Jackson (May 13); John Mayer (Oct. 20) and the return of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Nov. 24-26).

Brand Wagon

From the marquee to the mezzanine, partnerships are central to the CFG Bank Arena mission.

“We have 20 to 25 sponsorships inside the arena and all of them are local companies that warmed to the idea that the regeneration and rebirth of that part of downtown was an important catalyst for the rest of the city,” said Griffis. “They were planting a flag saying, ‘We believe in the city of Baltimore.’”

CFG Bank Arena has partner programs with Cheq, the arena’s official mobile ordering, delivery and social gifting partner; CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the largest not-for-profit health plan in the mid-Atlantic region; Ticketmaster, the official ticketing partner; PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA) and TURN Systems, which operates a leading reusable cup system.

Arena partner Fearless will launch the Fearless Impact Fund, a first-of-its-kind community fund to serve BIPOC businesses (black, indigenous and people of color) and BIPOC workforce initiatives within greater Baltimore. The firm bought naming rights to “The Fearless Club,” a 900-capacity club at CFG Bank Arena.

Other multi-year partnerships include Anheuser-Busch, The Baltimore Banner, Boston Beer Company, Capital City Mambo Sauce, Chick-fil-A, Constellation Brands, New Belgium Brewing, PMSI pest management service, PPG, Pritchard Industries, Republic National Distributing Company, Sagamore Spirit and Strategic Factory.

At Your Service

OVG Hospitality manages the food and beverage experience and OVG’s Global Partnerships division brokered deals with many of the concession providers. The revamped food and beverage offerings include Shaq’s Big Chicken, Koko’s Bavarian, Charm City Favorites, Grill Masters Express Market, The Pizza Bar and Jimmy’s Famous Seafood.

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Neat Seats: CFG Bank Arena has about 14,000 seats, the same before renovations, but shrunk from three levels to two levels, with more P-1 seats. (Photo courtesy MGC Media)

For the first time at its owned-and-operated arenas, OVG will utilize Cheq’s mobile ordering system to enable guests to order food, drinks, merchandise and more from their seat via their mobile devices.

Guests seated within premium areas can have their orders delivered to their seat. “It’s all about technology and getting people back to what they came to view in the venue,” said Ken Gaber, president of OVG Hospitality. “Getting people through the line as fast as possible is important.”

The arena will have Premium Eats Stands on multiple levels of the arena featuring a selection of arena favorites and rotating specialty food items and Beverage Express Markets, with nine locations offering quick service cold beverages from venue partners. OVG Hospitality tapped local partners for its supplier diversity program. The initiative encourages the growth of traditionally underrepresented area businesses including minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned and LGBTQ-owned, plus partnering with nonprofit groups to earn money for their causes.

The arena’s diverse supplier partners include Capital City Mambo Sauce, Chapel’s Country Creamery, Enchanted Cakes, Firefly Farms, H&S Bakery, Inc., Mangers Meat Processors, Truly Good Foods and Uptown Bakery.

As a presenting partner, CareFirst will launch year-round, in-arena platforms, including a food donation program concentrated on food conservation efforts, and a plan to incorporate more nutritious and health-conscience food options into menus at the arena. CareFirst will partner with local organizations, including food pantries and schools, where all unused food from both the front and back of the house will be donated to people in need.

A Sustainable Future

Compared to tearing down the old arena and building a new one, the renovation saved 90% of structural steel and 95% of embodied carbon emissions. Renovating eliminated the need for an estimated 3,500 tons of steel, 25,000 cubic yards of concrete and 1.45 million gallons of water, according to the life cycle assessment (LCA).

The project’s embodied carbon, or the amount of emissions that result from the production of building materials and construction, was a tiny fraction of what it would have been if the building were newly constructed.

“From an environmental perspective it makes a lot of sense to renovate because a huge amount of the environmental footprint comes from those structural materials that we kept in the case of CFG Bank Arena,” said Kristen Fulmer, senior director of sustainability for OVG. “So much of the sustainability impact happens before the building even opens.” The venue is a member of OVG’s GOAL (Green Operations and Advanced Leadership) initiative. Sustainability was top of mind during the reconstruction with locally sourced materials, LED lighting, low flow and waterless fixtures and more.

Providing a venue that keeps people in the market to see music rather than traveling to New York, Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. for concerts benefits the environment by helping to reduce carbon emissions. During the grand opening on April 7, the arena and PepsiCo Beverages North America kicked off PBNA’s reusable cup pilot program. The partnership uses TURN Systems, which operates a leading scalable reuse platform including collection bins and mobile washing systems. A single reusable TURN cup has the potential to displace up to 100 single-use cups and can break even on its environmental impact in as few as three uses.

“The sustainability moves are not just things that we require of the customer,” said Granger. “These are things we’re doing in all corners of the building.