Staff Photo: Jason Braverman . A sold-out crowd cheers for the Foo Fighters as they take the stage Monday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH -- On Sunday, Feb. 16, 2003, the Arena at the Gwinnett Center hosted its first event at the new $65 million venue. The Georgia Force played the San Jose SaberCats -- and won.
Ten years later, the Duluth complex has held 1,014 events with an attendance of more than 6.7 million people and has become a destination in Gwinnett, recently hailed as one of the top arenas worldwide by Venues Today and Pollstar Magazine.
"We are constantly growing, and that is because of the support that we have had from the metro-Atlanta community over the years," said Joseph Dennis, general manager at Gwinnett Center. "Even during the recession, we were not only able to keep our attendance figures consistent, but were able to increase event attendance in a time when other venues across the country were not. It all comes back to the support from the fans, and the great events that have been booked here over the past 10 years."
In 2012, the Arena booked The Dave Matthews Band, The Who, Paul Simon, Blake Shelton, TOOL, George Strait and Martina McBride, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Antebellum, One Direction, American Idol LIVE!, Carrie Underwood, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice -- just to name a few acts.
This year, it has announced Eric Clapton with The Wallflowers on March 27, Barry Manilow April 27 and Beyonce on July 12.
Dennis believes the venue's success doesn't come solely from booking big names. It comes from free parking, its relationships with promoters and other partners as well as its staff.
"(The Gwinnett Gladiators) have been our tenant team from the beginning. We are honored to be a part of such a strong family," he said. "I would say that the biggest contribution to our success has been our staff. ... They are extremely passionate about their roles at the Center and it shows with their hard work."
With its success, the Arena and other buildings on the property are constantly getting face-lifts.
"I always enjoy when people look at us in shock when we tell them that the Arena is 10 years old," Dennis said. "People don't believe us because we keep it looking as new as possible."
Earlier this month, the Arena upgraded its technology with new flat screen televisions, digital menu boards and digital scoreboard.
A new building is also in the works. In late 2012, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissions approved a headquarters hotel on Gwinnett Center's campus.
"Having an on-campus hotel would bring more events to the complex, and it would be convenient for our out-of-town guests as well," Dennis said. "This addition would procure a greater hotel-motel tax and would bring more jobs to Gwinnett County. ... Right now, we are doing our due diligence to make sure that this is the right fit for our community."
But to begin the yearlong birthday bash, the Arena teamed up with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for a free birthday party for the public Feb. 20. Attendees were able to watch performances and meet the performers.
That was just the first of many events celebrating the anniversary, according to Dennis.
"We have a lot of exciting plans for our 10 year birthday -- stay tuned for more information," he said. "The public can look forward to some really exciting events and a lot of upgrades to Gwinnett Center."
For information about upcoming shows, visit www.gwinnettcenter.com.