Longtime Jackson concert promoter Arden Barnett has signed a three-year lease with renewal options on the performing arts venue Duling Hall, the auditorium of the former Fondren school that has become an entertainment destination since its opening with the rest of the renovated building in 2009.
Barnett, principal of entertainment booking firm ardenland, said he plans to invest from $50,000 to $100,000 in cosmetic improvements to the auditorium. “The goal is to provide a more comfortable and user-friendly environment,” he said in a Tuesday interview.
Barnett was intentionally short on specifics, noting he wants to keep some suspense alive.
The work list does not include changes to the acoustics of the ,square -foot auditorium, which Barnett says has some of the best audio quality of any venue in the state. “Every musician that plays that hall wants to come back,” he said.
The cosmetic work, which includes upgrades of the bar area, will be done in phases starting this quarter, according to Barnett, whose company books concerts and entertainment events throughout the area, including Thalia Mara Hall, Hal & Mal’s, Iron Horse Grill, Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center and the Mississippi Coliseum.
While holding a lease to Duling Hall gives Barnett increased flexibility in booking shows promoted by ardenland, it also gives him a final say on non-ardenland acts that want to perform there.
Such control, he said, is important for upholding the Duling Hall brand. “My thing is that we keep the music consistently phenomenal,” he said. “All it takes is a couple of bad shows to throw our work off.”
The hall holds about 400 spectators for concerts without tables and about half as many spectators with tables in place,
By Tuesday, ardenland had 35 shows booked at Duling through early April. Barnett said he expects the venue to maintain that pace through the rest of the year.
When not used for concerts and other shows, Duling Hall is often booked for weddings, private parties and high school proms.
Mike Peters of Peters Development, known for his restoration of Fondren Corner a decade ago, restored the Duling School and reopened it in 2009. Soon afterward, the popular Babalu’s Tacos and Tapas opened in the building at 622 Duling Ave.