‘OUR STATUE OF LIBERTY’: Paraguay’s Smart Arena, shown here in a rendering, has entered the design phase and aspires to be the first carbon-neutral arena in South America. (Courtesy Smart Arena Entertainment)


The post-COVID live entertainment boom shows no signs of slowing down with more artists going global and extending their tours into territories they hadn’t considered years ago. One of those regions is South America, which is rapidly growing alongside the live business with its stadiums and arenas, and entertainers may soon consider another country when visiting the continent.

Paraguay is looking to get into the mix and become a desired destination with Smart Arena, a 15,000-capacity state-of-the-art venue near the nation’s capital of Asunción that aspires to be the first sustainable arena in South America.

It will be part of a 14-acre entertainment hub that includes shopping centers, a museum and recreational areas for the surrounding communities to enjoy every day. The building is estimated to about $200 million and will be surrounded by a green landscape, sitting near the newly-built Héroes del Chaco Bridge that crosses the Paraguay River and connects the city of Asunción to Nueva Asunción.

PREMIUM AMENITIES: Smart Arena’s seating bowl, shown here in a rendering, will have premium amenities on par with new venues. (Courtesy Smart Arena Entertainment)

The project originated with event producer Walter Ayala, whose concept for a modern arena has percolated since 2017. With backing from private investors across the globe and support from the local government, he founded Smart Arena Entertainment, and the arena recently entered the initial design stage with HOK, an American architecture firm with offices around the globe (including one in London that Ayala worked with) and is among the industry’s major players for designing arenas and stadiums.

Ayala has hopes that construction of the new arena begins in 2025 so it can be completed by October 2027 and put his native country on the map when it comes to live entertainment. Paraguay is nestled between Argentina and Brazil, two major destinations for artists touring Latin America, making it an easy stop for those passing between those two countries. He said the arena will have the best sound in all of Paraguay and include exclusive suits and boxes.

Naming rights for the arena are still up for negotiation, Ayala said, but the partnering company has to align with the venue’s vision of combating climate change through sustainable practices and must also maintain Net Zero at the end of the name.

“I’m excited and pleased to have such international support on this iconic project in Paraguay,” said Ayala. “We want to make this the first net zero arena in the region and an example for the world. For our country, it is an important project because it will put us on the international map for the biggest concerts.”

THE MAN WITH THE VISION: Walter Ayala’s idea for Smart Arena came after losing money on a concert he produced due to bad weather, which often happens to promoters in a region that uses soccer stadiums for live events. (Courtesy Walter Ayala)

Having worked in the live entertainment industry for more than 25 years by producing major events, Ayala knows all too well Paraguay’s need for an arena. There’s no shortage of stadiums in South America, due to the people’s passion for soccer, and many headliners use them to draw large crowds, but unpredictable weather in the region can lead to cancellations and promoters losing money booking outdoor venues.

“[Smart Arena] doesn’t only resolve an infrastructure problem. With it, we will be able to program shows like those of other major markets that have the infrastructure in place,” Ayala said. “We will have more tourists and attract more artists. We haven’t had a Coldplay or a Madonna here. We have a great opportunity here to help the region economically.”

Other viable arenas in the region were built for sporting events and seat no more than 5,000.

Ayala believes Smart Arena will attract more talent, especially those who align with his vision of developing an eco-friendly space that promotes sustainable practices. The slogan for the project is, “Smart Arena Net Zero. Welcome to sustainable entertainment.” To mitigate traffic and pollution, Ayala plans to have parking lots in the greater Asunción area where people can park their vehicles and be transported to the venue by electric buses, a move he hopes will encourage citizens to consider purchasing electric cars.

“This could be the first arena in the region to be 100% carbon neutral because other arenas were remodeled or repurposed,” Ayala said. “This will be built from scratch, and we’ll be looking for the LEED Platinum certification. … It’s fundamental for us because this will be our point of reference, our State of Liberty. When people talk about Smart Arena, they will know it’s located in Paraguay. That is what we want.”

Though the aesthetics are still being worked on, Ayala wants the venue to be reflective of his native country and wants the trees and leaves from the Chaco — a semiarid region on the west of Paraguay full of wildlife and home to dozens of indigenous groups — to serve as inspiration for the designers.

“The Chaco is very important to me and my country,” Ayala said, explaining that it inspires a sense of renewal and connection with the past.
“During the war between Bolivia and Paraguay, they were used as a place of refuge and water. I, too, have suffered from battles and when spring arrives, the trees bloom and it’s so beautiful. The architects are going to be working off the design of the leaves. That is the concept we came up with, our reference point.”

The venue would be emblematic of Paraguay’s economic growth. According to the World Bank, the South American nation has grown faster than the regional average over the past 20 years. Paraguay’s exports of agriculture, livestock and hydropower have driven the country’s growth, and with such an abundance of natural resources, it’s fitting that the capital’s first major arena would contribute to the ecosystem rather than pollute it.

“Our commitment is a patriotic one, and I say this from my heart: this will generate tremendous social impact,” Ayala said. “We will have more than 1,000 new jobs and a social responsibility to collaborate with all the surrounding cultures and communities to show them sustainable practices.”

He said, “[Smart Arena] is our legacy for future generations. We want to leave an arena that is 100% sustainable where younger people can go walk and ride a bike and later watch a show — things we don’t have in our country at the moment.”