New Digs 

Minglewood Hall seeks to transform the Midtown — and Memphis — music scene.

With a wedding reception, a

Vagina Monologues performance, and a roots-rock concert, Minglewood Hall opens this week as the largest Midtown performance venue in decades.

The concert and event hall is the core piece of Minglewood Plaza, a multi-million-dollar mixed-use development of local company the DeHart Group, which purchased the former Strings & Things building at 1555 Madison in early 2007 for $1.7 million.

Minglewood Hall, whose current concert slate includes a diverse array of name acts such as alt-country icons Lucinda Williams (February 24th) and Ryan Adams (March 18th), local metal stalwarts Saliva (February 21st), straight-country up-and-comer Eric Church (April 2nd), and indie-rock faves Of Montreal (April 26th), will be managed by Mike Smith, a longtime local music-scene fixture who helped turn Young Avenue Deli into a viable venue as its general manager and talent buyer and who also booked several local bands via his Snax Memphis company.

The DeHart Group is a family business dating to the 1800s (current president J. De DeHart calls himself a "sixth-generation entrepreneur"). It relocated from New Jersey to Memphis in the 1960s when his father got a football scholarship to then Memphis State University and fell for a local girl.

The DeHart Group's focus has been in sectors such as logistics, human resources, and financial services, but after J. De DeHart took over reins of the family company a few years ago, the DeHart Group began making inroads into entertainment, most notably with the formation of TCB Concerts, a local promoter that has booked shows in Memphis and throughout the region for the past few years.

DeHart says he had been looking for a site to open a concert venue when the opportunity to purchase the Strings & Things building came along. After first moving his company's headquarters from Collierville to the Midtown location, DeHart began construction on the music hall last spring.

Though both TCB Concerts and Minglewood Hall are DeHart companies, DeHart and Smith are careful to point out that the companies are separate. (Though the DeHart company headquarters are in the Minglewood building, TCB's offices are not.)

"I have an interest in driving music to Memphis — rather than me driving to Atlanta or Nashville or St. Louis to see a show," DeHart says. "This venue is open to any promoter. It's a nonexclusive room."

Last week, Smith was overseeing the finishing touches on Minglewood Hall, the core second phase of the three-phase Minglewood Plaza project, which DeHart estimates to be a $5 million to $6 million investment. (The first phase was moving the DeHart Group's corporate offices in the top floor of the building. The third phase, due for completion later this year, will consist of a company-owned restaurant adjacent to the event hall's lobby and leasing out a couple of open retail bays.)

A small crew was putting the finishing touches on the stage, and Smith was awaiting the arrival of two large bars that will bracket the hall's main room.

Smith and DeHart hope Minglewood will fill a niche for a mid-sized venue, one larger than the New Daisy Theatre and smaller than the Orpheum. At the top end, Minglewood can hold over 1,500 for concerts. But the room is being equipped with a curtain system, which, in addition to helping with acoustics, will make Minglewood an adjustable space with configurations down to a 300-person general-admission setting for smaller shows.

In addition to the two bar areas on opposite ends of the room, Minglewood will feature bathrooms with dual entrances, designed to cut down on the time patrons have to stand in line. The hall will have a separate lobby with an in-house ticketing operation.

There are also three private suites, overlooking the concert hall, which will be available on a per-show rental basis. A kitchen area will prep concert concessions and serve as a staging area for special-event caterers. And Minglewood is going green throughout the building, including an LED system in place of traditional lighting.

Running the show as general manager/talent buyer is Smith.

"I had just come off the road [working for] Widespread Panic. I'd gotten tired of that, and [my daughter] was getting older," Smith says. "I was unsure of what I was going to do. I was really fortunate to be able to work at the Deli for all those years. We booked a lot of great music in that place for it being a little sandwich shop."

Asked about his booking strategy for the larger building, Smith says, "We want to keep a very diverse calendar. I've got my own tastes in music, but the important part about booking is not booking what you like but what sells tickets. And selling tickets to different demographics is very important to us.

"We want to do some urban and hip-hop stuff. We're doing country. We're doing rock. We're doing indie. I'm sure there will be some heavier stuff coming along."

In addition to renting out the hall for private functions, Smith says he's been looking into nonmusic events such as comedy and mixed-martial arts.

Minglewood will be a new thing for Midtown music culture, not just in size and diversity but in how it operates, with most shows beginning at 8 p.m. and ending by 11.

"We're not a bar," Smith says. "Our goal is not to keep you here until 2 a.m. drinking. Part of our goal is to have you come and have a good time and then have you be able to catch an after-show at the Deli or the Hi-Tone or Murphy's, or hit a [neighborhood] restaurant."

When the Minglewood project began, the national economy was in a different place. But DeHart and Smith don't seem too worried about the timing.

"I don't know that the economy slows down the entertainment business as much as people think," Smith says. "Concerts are selling tickets. People are going to go see music — epecially if it's reasonably priced in a secure environment in a new building that has enough bathrooms for everybody."

Minglewood Hall's first concert event will be Sunday, February 15th, with roots-music acts Old Crow Medicine Show and the Felice Brothers. For more information, go to minglewoodhall.com.

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