BALANCING NEEDS: The Track, a new indoor track complex in Boston funded by New Balance, extends to a 3,500-capacity concert hall attached to the building. (Boston Globe)
SPORTS AND LIVE MUSIC PERFECT MIX AT THE TRACK
The next generation of indoor track complexes has opened in Boston with a twist — a concert hall attached to the multipurpose facility that’s booking dozens of national acts.
The Track at New Balance, a $200 million complex, opened in mid-April as part of Boston Landing, a mixed-use development in Brighton, a neighborhood in the city’s northwest section. It seats 5,000 spectators for events and caters to the needs of world-class track and field athletes as well as basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, soccer, lacrosse and pickleball players.
NB Development, athletic apparel retailer New Balance’s real estate group, financed the project along with the rest of Boston Landing, which encompasses the company’s headquarters.
Roadrunner Boston, the 3,500-capacity live music venue, is connected to The Track and it’s a new piece of business for New Balance. In that respect, it separates the brand from Nike World Headquarters in Oregon and Under Armour, which is currently building a new global campus in Baltimore.
The Bowery Presents, part of AEG, runs Roadrunner Boston after signing a deal with NB Development to operate and book shows at the 50,000-square-foot club, among Boston’s biggest indoor music venues. The general admission room opened in mid-March with Billy Strings and upcoming shows include Lake Street Dive, Leon Bridges, The National and Midnight Oil, among the band’s short run of nine North American dates in 2022.
“You can (theoretically) come to a sports event during the day, head downstairs to the beer hall to get something to eat and grab a cold one, and go to a concert that night, all within the same footprint,” said Jay Rourke, The Track’s general manager.
Rourke, a New Balance executive for 12 years, also runs NB Fitness Club and Warrior Ice Arena, the NHL Boston Bruins’ practice facility. In addition, he serves as senior project manager for Boston Landing, which includes those buildings and Auerbach Center, the NBA Boston Celtics’ practice facility.
The two big league practice facilities sit across the Massachusetts Turnpike from where The Track was built. Warrior Ice Arena opened in 2016 and Auerbach Center debuted two years later. It’s named for Red Auerbach, the Celtics’ hall of fame former coach and general manager.
The concert hall filled the space where Auerbach Center was originally going to be built until New Balance officials made adjustments to meet the Celtics’ desired time frame for opening the practice facility and relocated the site across the highway, Rourke said. The same was true for Warrior Ice Arena; that space at The Track was filled with a dedicated throwing area for field events with 630 seats.
NB Development executives brainstormed the concept of a live music venue to fill the void and it stuck. The deal with AEG’s affiliate came after Rourke discussed the project with Josh Bhatti, vice president of The Bowery Presents. Bhatti exercises at NB Fitness Club, which is near the promoter’s Boston office.
“We knew who he was,” Rourke said. “It was pretty organic in how it all came about. It was meant to be.”
Boston Landing, an overall $750 million development spanning 15 acres, was the vision of Jim Davis, and his wife Ann, owners of New Balance. The history of New Balance dates to 1906, when William J. Riley founded the company to sell footwear arch supports. Jim Davis, New Balance chairman, bought the firm in 1972 and it now generates $4.5 billion in annual revenue.
Elkus Manfredi, a local architect, has been involved with Boston Landing from the beginning, starting with the formation of a master plan, which resulted in its design of five buildings. The Track, whose opening was delayed seven months due to the pandemic, is among the final parts of the development.
It stands as the centerpiece, said David Manfredi, the firm’s CEO and founding principal.
“The Track was the thing Jim Davis really wanted to build because it connected everything that he thought about in terms of New Balance and the brand,” Manfredi said. “We built new streets and made new connections. It was a light industrial area. He bought the real estate and wanted to create a neighborhood that drew a mix of people.”
The Track itself spans four levels with a total of 485,000 square feet. The signature design element is the 200-meter hydraulically-banked track. It consists of a steel frame structure and polyurethane surface, manufactured by Beynon Track Surfaces, part of Tarkett Sports.
The systems in place provide quick and efficient conversions between track and field and other sports. To get ideas for designing The Track, Manfredi said project officials visited the University of Michigan indoor track building, which opened in 2018 with a similar hydraulic system.
In Boston, for conversions to soccer and lacrosse, 11 tugboat-style ropes operated by winches on the building’s east side are used to pull an artificial turf field stored underneath the floor across the track surface. Fans embedded in the floor create air pockets beneath the turf to protect the track without damaging it, Rourke said.
Veteran sports architect Bob Fatovic has experience designing Olympic sports venues and he consulted on The Track, in part to see what other events could take place apart from track and field.
For basketball and volleyball, Terraturf panels provide a protective layer between the track and those hard court surfaces. Produced by Terraplas, the same supplier stadiums use for concerts to protect grass fields, the panels create “pathways” to move materials around to protect the track surface, Fatovic said.
“Portable basketball floors need to be set up with (2,200-pound) backstops and they’re a challenge because we couldn’t put anything heavy on the hydraulic systems of the track, so we had to figure out a way to move these things around without going over the track,” he said.
The Track has four 36-person suites along the first turn on the building’s west side that sell for $2,000 per ticketed event. Catered food and drink is a separate fee. General concessions are pre-packaged healthy options; “there are no chicken fingers and fries on the menu,” Rourke said.
Daktronics videboards are installed on the east and west walls. There are meeting rooms for video conferences and the venue is hard wired for broadcast productions. Glass walls on three sides bring natural light into the venue, which is not the case with most indoor track facilities, Rourke said.
The Track is booked solid through 2022, including the indoor track season, which typically runs from Dec. 1 through late March. Looking ahead, the venue plays host to the 2024 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
“There’s a small window for indoor track, so we wanted to take a look at what else we can do for sports that New Balance is heavily involved in,” Rourke said.
As part of The Track, Broken Records Beer Hall, which Roark mentioned, is on the ground floor of The Track and operated by The Briar Group, which runs a dozen restaurants in Boston.
For the most part, New Balance is not in the food biz.
“We have a ton of retailers on the street (as part of Boston Landing) that have had a real tough go of it over the past two years,” Rourke said. “We would much rather have people come to our building and run fast and then go across the street to get something to eat.”
To date, no concerts have overlapped with events at The Track, which shares a loading dock with Roadrunner Boston. Most track meets end by 8 p.m. and Rourke doesn’t expect a “collision” between track fans exiting and concertgoers arriving at the same time.
There’s parking for 240 vehicles on site and NB Development funded construction of a new commuter rail station at Boston Landing that opened in May 2017. Over the first 15 to 20 concerts at Roadrunner Boston, the train has transported a steady flow of customers to the venue.
“There’s a lot of logistics involved and we have to make sure it’s a great experience on both sides,” Rourke said. “We ran the analysis; it’s all in the entitlement package. It couldn’t be a better partnership with AEG.”