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Arena demo to make way for $93M expo center

A rendering showing the planned $93 million Brown County Expo Center. To make room for the center, crews plan to start in May knocking down the existing Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, a six-decade old venue that has provided plenty of memories to concertgoers over the years. (Rendering courtesy of Kahler Slater and Populous)

A rendering shows the planned $93 million Brown County Expo Center. To make room for the center, crews plan to start in May knocking down the existing Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, a six-decade old venue that has provided plenty of memories to concertgoers over the years.
(Rendering courtesy of Kahler Slater and Populous)

By KENDRA MEINERT
Green Bay Press-Gazette

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (AP) — Turn out the lights. The party’s over.

Crews are preparing to knock down the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena to make the way for the construction of a $93 million exposition center. That demolition project may mean the end of the line for the current six-decade-old concert venue.

But the arena is destined to live on in many memories — with its dark haze of loud rock and blazing pyro with sticky floors, sweaty bodies, long lines and enough energy to make the place feel as if it were bouncing with the beat.

On the arena’s last night, Bret Michaels helped make sure of that.

“I am having the best time of my life right now. I can’t stop smiling,” the former lead singer of the hair rock band Poision told the Green Bay Press-Gazette during a  75-minute set that felt as if it might blow a hole through the roof before demolition crews have a chance to next month.

The building, which opened on Nov. 11, 1958 — welcoming a heap of famed entertainers including Metallica, Johnny Cash, Sonny & Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Presley, Kenny Chesney, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac — closed the book on its rich concert history on April 6, 2019.

The next chapter will come when the demolition of the building begins on May 1 to make room for the planned $93 million Brown County Expo Center. But for anybody who grew up with the original venue, a  it will be hard to forget what had once stood at the site.

Matt and Jennifer Clark, of Howard, met at a Def Leppard concert there in 1988. Michael’s concert there this year fell on night after their 22nd wedding anniversary. Of course, they had to be there to say goodbye.

“When I go down the hallways, I don’t think about the concerts. I think about my graduation and my friends,” said Jennifer Clark, whose 1989 graduation ceremony from Southwest High School was in the building.

A five-band bill that included Lita Ford, Warrant, the Ghost Hounds and Inferred stretched the farewell concert out for nearly five hours. But it was Michaels with the muscle to deliver the kind of punch still worthy of an arena crowd.

During a post-sound check press conference from his dressing room earlier in the day, Michaels promised “1,000% energy and passion,” and he didn’t skimp. Not even a little.

He brought with him his own memories of the Brown County arena. Poison rehearsed for and started three tours in the building in 1988, 1990 and 1993, and the band famously shot the video for its No. 1 hit “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” there. It’s a history that Michaels has always embraced.

“Tonight, this is a celebration. This is three generations of us in here, partying together, rocking together. And you know I am family in Green Bay now. We are home,” he said, cameras filming during the entire show.

“… I want to thank you for all the amazing years that we have had right here in this awesome city, awesome building and awesome friends right here tonight. I will never forget this night.”

That makes him and 5,600 other people.

“The history, it’s crazy,” said the local musician Paul Hanna of Annex, who saw Poison, Metallica, Cinderella and countless other bands at the arena long before he played it. “A lot of my youth here.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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