Bi-Lo Center a major Upstate entertainment hub

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Widespread Panic entertains the crowd at the Bi-Lo Center in May 2010.

The arena, which can seat up to 15,000 people, has played host to concerts, sporting events, rodeos, pro wrestling matches and much more since it opened in September 1998. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been a perennial visitor, and there have been performances by Olympic-medal-winning ice skaters and gymnasts.

The concert roster has included such performers as Elton John, Alan Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Widespread Panic, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC and Tina Turner.

Groundbreaking for the arena took place March 7, 1996, but the long journey to that day began in the late 1960s when officials and business executives first questioned whether Memorial Auditorium was too small to offer quality entertainment.

Auditorium trustees bought neighboring houses for an arena, but opponents forced a public vote and defeated the plans in 1973. Tax increases for the coliseum were defeated two more times.

Longtime proponents said what they lacked was a developer willing to put together private financing.

Along came national sports promoter Carl Scheer, who crafted the mix of public taxes and private investment to pay for the building.

Scheer's plan combined current property taxes for the auditorium with a 2.3-cent increase in the tax on hotel rooms and the sale of luxury seating and advertising rights to pay for construction. The package won support from some of the chief opponents of the earlier plans because it didn't increase property taxes.

At the groundbreaking, Scheer credited retired business executives Buck Mickel and Jim Cockman, former Mayor Max Heller and Greenville lawyer Tommy Wyche with deciding two years prior that the only way to build the arena was to ask a private developer to take the reins.

Memorial Auditorium trustees decided an hour before the groundbreaking that they would close the 40-year-old building that August and probably will demolish it shortly before the Bi-Lo Center opens.

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