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Greenville Business Magazine

Bon Secours Wellness Arena’s 25th Anniversary Brings Back Scores of Memories

Sep 11, 2023 12:27PM ● By Donna Isbell Walker

The Bon Secours Wellness Arena holds a special place in my heart. Twenty-five years ago, I attended the very first concert at what was then called the BI-LO Center, in my job as entertainment writer for The Greenville News.

Janet Jackson opened the arena on Sept. 3, 1998, a rainy evening that brought out 12,000 fans to christen the new entertainment venue. Performing the hits as part of her “Velvet Rope” tour, Jackson brought along a 19-year-old Usher as her opening act. Six years later, Usher returned to the arena as a headliner.

One night after Jackson’s stellar performance, Pearl Jam brought down the house. It was quite the one-two punch for the new building – and for Greenville itself.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve attended concerts, circuses, an ice-skating show, and much more, both as a writer and as a spectator, and some of my favorite musical memories were formed under that big white dome, which changed its name to Bon Secours Wellness Arena a decade ago.

Greenville has reaped countless benefits from having a 15,000-seat arena, now nicknamed The Well, at the gateway to downtown. Basketball tournaments, high school and college graduations, monster truck rallies, rodeos, and of course, a platinum-worthy assortment of musical artists – from Garth Brooks to Elton John to Prince – have brought together friends, family, and strangers, and have provided a welcome boost to the Upstate’s economy.

Arenas like The Well also serve as anchors for bustling downtowns elsewhere in South Carolina, including Columbia and Charleston. They establish identities as leading sports and entertainment venues, attracting a diverse range of high-profile events and adding important threads to their cities’ vibrant cultural fabrics.

General Manager Beth Paul has spent much of her career at the arena, starting in 1999 as accounting manager at the BI-LO Center. She left in 2001 to work at an arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, returning to Greenville in 2005. Paul worked as director of finance, assistant general manager, and interim general manager before becoming general manager in 2015.

Paul is proud of what the arena has brought to Greenville, including the college basketball tournaments, but the ups and downs haven’t always been easy to manage.

The Covid-19 shutdown, for example, created unprecedented challenges. The SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament had just concluded in March 2020 when the pandemic forced most non-essential businesses to close for an indefinite period of time.

High school graduations were still held at BSW Arena in June 2020, with social distancing requirements in place, but concerts and most other events were postponed or canceled. The Greenville Swamp Rabbits hockey team played in December 2020, Paul recalled, but the first full capacity show after the shutdown, a concert by Moneybagg Yo, happened in July 2021.

Covid was challenging, Paul said, because “there was no training on how to manage through something as severe and dire as a pandemic.”

But recovering from the pandemic was also daunting as social distancing rules evolved and as the vaccine was rolled out.

“That’s one thing I was proud of,” Paul said. “We actually made a profit during this year – a very small one, but we did make one.”

For Paul, the SEC basketball tournaments are a favorite memory of her time at the arena, and she also looks back fondly on the 2011 Prince concert.

Prince came to town on his Welcome 2 America tour, taking fans on a musical journey through every era of his celebrated career.

“I think we had maybe three weeks to prepare for the show, four at the most,” Paul said. “It was phenomenal.”

I also have fond memories of that Prince concert, which I reviewed for The Greenville News. When the Purple One died five years later, my mind immediately flashed back to that show, which is still in my personal top 25 concerts of all time.

Some of my other favorite moments from the past 25 years of the arena:

In 2004, I had the chance to participate in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Three Ring Adventure pre-show as a guest clown, complete with electric orange wig, red nose, and gargantuan shoes.

My all-time favorite musical artist, Bruce Springsteen, stopped by the arena on his 2009 tour, putting on a tour de force that became my No. 1 show out of the six times I’ve seen The Boss in concert.

In 2000, Tina Turner, then 61 years old, rocked the house in five-inch heels, dancing up a storm and playing a jukebox worth of hits.

A 2019 Paul McCartney concert was awe-inspiring, as the former Beatle spent three hours playing songs from every decade of his career, capping off the evening with an audience singalong of “Hey Jude” before returning for a six-song encore that concluded with the Beatles hit “The End.”

I’m lucky to have had the chance to witness countless memorable performances at Bon Secours Wellness Arena over the past 25 years, but many, many others – in Greenville and beyond – could say the same thing. The Upstate is fortunate to have a place where disparate people can come together to enjoy a collective moment of awe or enthusiasm, or just plain pride.

Here’s to the next 25 years.