After a year that saw a proposal for a new $450 million arena in the Inner Harbor, Baltimore's stalwart — Royal Farms Arena, established in 1962 — has positioned itself for one of its strongest years, musically, in recent memory.
The 2016 lineup — which includes Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Janet Jackson and Maroon 5 — is as impressive as Frank Remesch has seen since he became general manager in 2004, the Baltimore native said Thursday.
"You almost can't get any more diversified than that," Remesch said.
The arena's music schedule for next year includes: Brooks, for the first time in Baltimore, and Trisha Yearwood (Jan. 22-23; Jan. 29-30); Jackson (Feb. 29); Bryan, Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch (April 8); Rihanna and Travis Scott (April 9); Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago (April 12); Bieber (July 7) and Maroon 5 (Sept. 16). More concerts are still to be announced, Remesch said.
Beyond music, comedians like Jeff Dunham (Feb.12), Katt Williams (Feb. 14) and Mike Epps (April 1) are scheduled to perform. There are also the usual family-friendly shows ("our bread and butter," Remesch said) like the Monster Jam truck series (Feb. 26-28) and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (March 16-27).
Named a top venue for its size by Billboard magazine last year, the arena is no stranger to recognizable music talent. It hosted, this year, concerts by Prince, Motley Crue, the Eagles and Stevie Wonder.
But in other recent years — with exceptions like Kanye West & Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and the Black Keys — the arena has not been consistent in drawing from the pop-music Zeitgeist.
Remesch said a myriad of factors contribute to why some years pop with relevancy more than others. Timing, good relationships with promoters and luck all matter.
"There's a lot of things at play," he said. "There's history [with promoters] and what you've done for people before, Baltimore supporting diverse events and having a little luck that the tours are out there that we're able to get."
In January, the Cordish Companies — owners of downtown's Power Plant Live entertainment complex — proposed a 15,000-seat arena that would replace Royal Farms Arena. The project, which would be built on Piers 5 and 6 in the Inner Harbor, would cost an estimated $450 million.
There was initial interest, along with questions about finances and traffic, from the city, but little else since. Others have suggested a significant renovation to the current arena instead of building a new one.
On Thursday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, via a statement, the city continues to consider the arena's future.
"As a city, we are proud that we have a high-performing, award-winning arena that continues to attract top talent," Rawlings-Blake said. "Baltimore is a proven entertainment and music destination. We continue to explore all options for the future."
For his part, Remesch supports a renovation that he said could transform the arena for $100 million.If a new one were built, he would not want it on the current site. He suggests that $450 million for a new arena might be hard to justify in a city with pressing needs. And the time it would take to build a new arena, Remesch argued, would also impede the momentum and goodwill the manager has built with concert promoters over the years.
"You're pushing a ball up a hill, right?" he said. "We're doing it, though. Once you stop, it's going back down. … We're a success story now. You have to think it through."