By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: Announcing the Dell’s return at last week’s press conference are: (from left) Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Councilwoman Marian Tasco; Sulaiman Rahman, Chairman, African American Chamber of Commerce; Councilman Curtis Jones, Mayor Michael Nutter and Susan Slawson, Recreation Commissioner.
Photos by Bill Z. Foster
Two years after being shutdown for repairs and renovation, the Dell East will re-open this summer and will once again entertain city residents with an eight-concert series featuring some of the top acts in the music industry.
During a press conference at City Hall last Wednesday, that included Mayor Michael Nutter, Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson said the $6.4 million renovation of the Dell East, now known as the Dell Music Center, was important because it has always been a part of the city’s fabric. It was sorely missed during the two summers it was absent.
“People always knew that they could go somewhere and bring their families,” Slawson said. “It is just something that Philadelphians just look forward to being a part of. It was missed in a big way. When people started hearing the buzz that it might open, my phones lit up.
“Just the thought of the Dell opening, I never realized how committed people were to that facility.”
Slawson said the effort to bring back the Dell East was a combination of several City Council people, Mayor Nutter, the Department of Recreation and Parks and community organizations like the Family of the Dell East.
Warren Haskins, chairman of the Family of the Dell East, said the return of the Dell East was the continuation of African American culture in North Philadelphia thanks to the efforts of the community.
“We’ve seen the city invest its dollars into the waterfront, we’ve seen them put dollars down on the (Ben Franklin) Parkway and to see these dollars being spent in our community, it means a lot that we have been recognized,” Haskins said. “It also means that we have institutions in our community that we need to support and I think we’re going to see that community support this season because people now recognized that they missed something that was of value and now it’s returning.
Nutter said he’s not expecting the city to make a lot of money with the return of the Dell East this summer. He said the important thing is that city residents have another venue for entertainment during the summer months.
“As long as we are able to book good acts and not lose our shirts that’s our first goal. We want to make sure we have as many entertainment options available to people throughout the course of the summer,” Nutter said. “It really broke my heart when I got the final report (back in 2007) that said it was crystal clear that we just had to do it, to close it and we had to get it over it. It seems like it’s a long time ago from where we are today.”
The first concert will kickoff on Monday July 12 with a headliner yet to be announced and the series at the Dell will run until late August. Some of the acts will include legendary groups like the Whispers, War, Brian McKnight and as well as local singers like Carol Riddick.
Slawson said ticket prices will be reasonable to the general public as well. Lawn seats, which seats about 1,500, will cost $10. The next level of seats will cost $25 and seat about 3,000 people and the most expensive level of seats will cost about $40 and will seat about 1,500. Parking is free.
“We want people to have their vacations and say, ‘you know what I’m going here to Philadelphia because I want to see a concert at the Dell,” Slawson said. “This grand re-opening is important in more than one way to bring our families back. Philadelphia is a great city and (the Dell East) is just one of the draws that Philadelphia offers.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. Have a quality venue with awesome service and how many places can you go and not for parking.”
The Family of the Dell East is also offering a subscription for music fans who want to attend all eight concerts. For $240, you can sit in the area closer to the stage for all eight shows while keeping the same seat. The next level of seating for subscription seating $160.
The longstanding practice of getting tickets to the Dell through your local city councilman has been eliminated. That’s something Haskins said he supports whole heartedly.
“I endorsed it because I believe that we have to pay for our culture,” Haskins said. “The way the price structure is set up those who have jobs and who have budgets can afford to sit up front and pay a decent dollar for it and it’s still a third of what it costs to go to other facilities. The price structure is amenable and reasonable and it allow all of us to participate in our culture.”
Just as in previous years, concert attendees will not be allowed to bring food into the venue and will only be permitted to bring in bottled water.
In addition to the events on the Dell East’s calendar, Slawson said the facility will be rented out to local concert promoters. One of those events will be a concert on July 17 that will include George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, the Barkays and Slave.
For many of Philadelphia residents, the Dell East was an integral part of their youth. Sulaiman Rahman, the president of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, said it was the first place where he learned about the business aspect of the music business.
“Growing up I had an opportunity to be apart of the Dell East experience,” Rahman said. “I had the chance to learn the business side of the music business.”.
Speaking of jobs for young people, Slawson said the new Dell East has been responsible for creating about 1,100 jobs throughout the Department of Recreation.
One of the biggest physical improvements of the renovated Dell East is its improved seating for the handicapped. Haskins said wheelchair users can find available seating throughout the venue, something they could do in the old facility.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new Dell East moving forward is making sure the facility is properly maintained by the city. Haskins said that it is up to the community top push its government leaders to commit funding to keep the place well-maintained on a regular basis.
“It’s going to require a concentrated effort to pay attention to maintenance items in their infancy,” Haskins said. “That’s going to require community organizations to assist in drawing attention to small things before they get out of hand because the maintenance issue is an issue for all city-owned properties; there’s not enough dollars to fix that inventory. That’s a reality. The loudest wheel gets the grease.”