On a sunny day in late April 1997, several of us media-types visited a dusty building project off south Interstate 25 for our first look inside what would become the Colorado Springs World Arena.
The construction superintendent, Dave Ervin of GE Johnson Construction, spent two hours that day sharing endless information about the effort and detail going into the new arena, as well as how much he appreciated being able to help erect a new showplace for the city. He knew the World Arena would create its own history, just like its predecessor, the old Broadmoor World Arena across the lake from the famous resort hotel.
Ervin had grown up here as a regular spectator at the old arena, watching Colorado College hockey games and other events. But he talked about spending the rest of his life enjoying the new arena even more, because he knew how every beam, every piece of wiring and every layer of cement had fit into place.
Except it didn’t work out that way. Tragically, just 10 weeks later, Ervin was killed in a car accident at age 46, just six months away from the World Arena’s opening. He had spent half his young life with GE Johnson, helping build everything from the Double Eagle casino and hotel in Cripple Creek to prisons and schools, but he never had the chance to experience the thrill of his construction career, built for the Pikes Peak region to enjoy for years to come.
Last week, on the Thursday night of March 16, those memories of Dave Ervin came back, vivid as ever.
With my wife and adult son, I once again went to the place now known as Broadmoor World Arena, this time for a concert by music legend Sir Elton John.
We made our way through the huge crowd that jammed the concourse, passing by many of the personalized ceramic tiles paid for by everyday people who donated to the arena fundraising campaign, including our family. We found our seats and as the sellout throng settled in, I marveled at how the arena looked and felt as spiffy and fresh as when the doors first opened in January 1998.
Much has improved through the years, from the sound system and video screen/scoreboard (for sports) to the modernized and themed concessions and bars, the first-rate food service operation and even the murals at entrances to the restrooms. But the arena itself remains a polished, sparkling jewel, untarnished after nearly 20 years of constant use.
As Sir Elton hammered away at his electrified grand piano on such iconic tunes as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Crocodile Rock,” I remembered he played the World Arena in 2009. But that was just a solo show with a piano. This time, for whatever reason, became a bigger deal.
Something about this particular night stood out, like what ESPN might label as an instant classic.
We found out the next day that this concert had set World Arena records for the most tickets sold in its 19-year history (more than 9,000), the highest-grossing single event (not released, but probably in the $1 million range, since tickets ranged up to $145 on the floor) and the fastest sellout (24 minutes after the public sale began, with the longest lines arena staff could remember).
The crowd was pumped, and Sir Elton responded in true form, with his five-man band — several have toured with him 40-plus years — providing all the musicianship and backup vocals. They rocked for more than two hours nonstop, then returned for a two-song encore. They made no compromises to the passage of time, belting out song after song to match the memories.
We could make a long list of unforgettable events that have taken place inside that building, not just concerts but hockey, skating, touring productions and even political conventions.
But something about this particular night stood out, like what ESPN might label as an instant classic. It was that special. I asked for an assessment from Dot Lischick, the only general manager the World Arena has ever had (starting before GE Johnson built the World Arena Ice Hall as an adjacent training facility).
Her response: “Absolutely, it was special to all of us, with the big crowd and the 360 (meaning people in every section, 360 degrees around the stage). And then the length, playing as long as he did without a break. It was just a wonderful night in every way.”
Lischick put this show in the arena’s highest echelon with the likes of the Eagles (2002), Sting, Riverdance and very few others. The only conclusion I offer: You could never see a better concert in Colorado Springs, period.
And thank goodness enough people were determined to get the arena done, from leaders like Bill Hybl and Peter Susemihl to the many contributors who wrote small checks.
But as we look ahead now to the Broadmoor World Arena celebrating its 20th anniversary next January, we must make sure to remember some of the other people who made it happen.
For me, that list has to begin with Dave Ervin.