Fate of Mobile’s Saenger Theatre Management Still on City Council Table

saenger theatre

Sources tell us three companies are now vying for the Saenger management job: RSA (Retirement Systems of Alabama); SMG; and Huka Entertainment.  Last December the Center for the Living Arts (CLA) announced it is opting out of the historic venue management business to focus more on the ‘visual’ arts for Mobile.

Saenger Light

In early December 2012, following the public outcry of last year’s management changes, the CLA announced its intentions of letting go of theatre management, citing the loss of funds from the visually artistic Space 301 to cover costs of live shows at the historic venue. More specifically, $6 million in renovations and an annual electric bill of about $160,000 spent by CLA. Reports indicate the Saenger lease agreement with CLA and City of Mobile calls for the City to subsidize at least $50,000 annually for maintenance (last year the City put up at least $200,000). In return, the CLA’s monthly lease charge is ten dollars. It should be noted that City Council approved a contract of $38,700 to repair the floor of the Saenger on January 15, 2013.

[polldaddy poll=6946775] With the last several years of great bookings, Mobile was on its way up with a buzz inside the music industry that almost erased the ’70’s-era Mobile blackball reputation.*  Legendary artists from Tom Waits to Robert Plant, Neil Young and Elvis Costello were requesting to not only play the Saenger, but to start their tour here. Giving us hopes of one day attaining legend venue status like London’s Brixton Academy, San Francisco’s Filmore, and New York’s Beacon.


Award-winning Hangout Festival is also a big boon for the area that boosts the area’s musical reputation even higher. While the CLA doesn’t see the $$ directly, the hotels, restaurants and ultimately the City do. There’s an additional side, quality of life. Citizens get a sense of pride to see this beautifully, historic venue being used by such legends and to know their City also supports the modern arts (instead of going the way of Detroit’s once renowned Michigan Theatre**).

[singlepic id=4171 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=left]Let’s look at the three options:

RSA has done a tremendous amount for Mobile’s quality of life, with the rebuild of the Battlehouse, the new RSA Tower and whatever they’re calling the hotel on Water and Government this week. For that, we thank and applaud them. However, is a retirement insurance company equipped to take on today’s competitive concert industry and drive fans from out-of-town to downtown? Do they know their Mumford from their Momma Chevy?

SMG has the experience of running venues worldwide, but lets face it, do you know anyone that thinks the Civic Center should still be standing?  Have you been inside lately? What was the last decent show that didn’t involve Disney? And what about those ridiculously priced extraneous charges forced in the contract  (just ask anyone who’s ever booked their Mardi Gras Ball there).  It might even call into question the city’s ethics, especially in light of the ’70’s era concert debacle.

Saenger Theatre inside

Elegant paintings in the round spiral stair (Tim Camp)

Huka Entertainment is also entrenched in Mobile (the owners are natives and want the best). While they’ve recently sold the actual business to world-renown SFX Entertainment, the contract calls for Huka to maintain concert promotions for the Gulf Coast, thereby giving Huka much more flexibility and resources.  The Mobile Symphony already agreed with Huka to work together on event promotions. Huka’s booked numerous shows at the Saenger and other Mobile and New Orleans venues, AND, is and was responsible for the Hangout Music Festival lineup in Gulf Shores, every year, from day one. They also worked with Hangout owner Shaul Zislin on festival layout, accoutrements, etc.  After only two years, Hangout Festival won the prestigous Pollstar concert industry award for Music Festival of the Year (non-touring), which further drives national attention to this area.

92ZEW fully supports live modern music in the Port City and based on our experience, we believe Huka to be, by far, the best choice for management. The CEO’s are from Mobile, they are ahead of the game in music trends, the Symphony wants to work with them, and they’ve already built the relationships necessary for success in this competitive business.

If you really care about the fate of the gorgeous, French inspired artistry of the Saenger Theatre, call, write and/or tweet the City Councilperson YOU hired, ASAP. Express your wishes and remind who’s the best suited to run the show.

Tell your friends and frenemies too.

And, just like any good old-fashioned broadcasting company, you are entitled to rebut via comment below or anonymously with email 92zew @ 92zew.net

To get more background and information on this particular issue:

Mayor Sam Jones


Reggie Copeland

Council President – District 5

Fredrick Richardson, Jr.

Council Vice President - District 1

Mobile City Council Offices


P.O. Box 1827
9th Floor, South Tower
Government Plaza
Mobile, AL. 36633-1827

Phone: (251) 208-7441
Fax: (251) 208-7482



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*Back in the heyday of the ’70’s, Mobile was getting some pretty large concert tours, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, even Elvis Presley. As the story goes, Van Halen was the first to discover some very unscrupulous ticket sales discrepancies that ultimately landed City officials in hot water resulting in an industry-wide ban of playing the Mobile market.

Michigan Theatre, a grand theatre when built in 1927 is now a parking garage



**Michigan Theatre, built about the same time as the Gulf Coast Saengers, 1927, is now home to a parking garage  (via urbanghostsmediacom)



TLC in the Morning




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