For many years, Monroe was an entertainment hub for Northeast Louisiana. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, artists like Ray Charles, Sonny and Cher, Elvis and many others made Monroe a stop on their touring schedules. As the years went by, other artists like Prince, George Strait, and Reba McEntire included Monroe on their tour rosters.
As the cultural landscape of Monroe changed and those artists grew in their careers, Monroe was no longer a dot on their maps for touring. The music in Monroe never died. It merely became more localized. The great local talents filled the void playing small clubs and taverns. The concerts became fewer and locals would travel to neighboring cites and states to get the fix of national and international artists.
In the spring of 2018, I sat down with downtown developer Jason Thomas and architect Fred Bennett. We began looking at a building at 201 Washington that was set to be come industrial residential condos. As we went through the building, it became evident that the structure needed to serve a greater purpose.
In the early 1920s, it was built to house Ryan Polk Chevrolet. For more than two decades it operated as such until the dealership relocated. In 1947 it became Murco. Inc. until late 2018. This is when James Murphy relocated to another space.
At that time plans were in full swing for the development of this building. Its original planned use was scrapped and plans were drawn up for a music hall. As we set forth with the plans, we enlisted James Reneau and David Sorrell of The Blue Group to over see the remodel to transform this diamond in the rough. I signed on as the designer of the project and demolition began in December 2018.
Establishing a name for the venue had to be the right fit. Many names were tossed around for a few weeks until the right one just made sense. On that day The HUB was born. The HUB takes its name for the definition of being the center point of activity. As with an automobile, the hub is the center point of motion that gets the wheels turning. It was a name that payed homage to its initial use.
In order to get this project from blueprints to development, it took some financial backing to get the ball rolling. Ron Purdy of Ouachita Valley Credit Union stepped up and helped get this project going. It takes a wonderful man and banker to take a chance on something that hasn’t been done in our market.
While music is the universal language, not everyone wants to wait until later at night or in a bar setting to hear great singers and musicians live. The Hub is unlike any other center offered in our community. It is a center intended for multi-purpose events for the public as well as private events. The Hub offers 16,000 square feet of heated and cooled space as well as an outdoor covered area. The plans for 2020 include an 8,000 square foot amphitheater and 2,000 square foot rooftop patio.
The HUB’s central purpose is to solidify an entertainment district in the downtown area of Monroe. Music is the basis for its incarnation. The HUB will promote and present musical acts of all genres on a local, regional, and global level. Music is the common language across the world. The HUB will showcase musical talents of all genres for all ages.
The HUB will also be a premiere event center for private parties, graduations, reunions, and charity events. Our mission is to make the HUB a community-based facility that will benefit the community and give back to the community. The HUB has several spaces for various purposes.
THE MURPHY LOUNGE
The Murphy Lounge is a haven for creatives, artists, musicians and enthusiasts seeking a simple and contemporary atmosphere for great music, libations and being social. Located in the heart of downtown Monroe in The Hub of the cultural district, The Murphy Lounge offers an environment to wind down from a workday while enjoying the best music, crafted cocktails, lite bites in an artistic setting like none other in Monroe. The Murphy Lounge is available for private parties on request.
The Murphy Lounge’s design needed to be special as it is the focal point of the building with its wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling windows. Cobalt blue became the inspiration for this room. The original scored concrete floors were refinished. The steel beams were exposed to incorporate an industrial vibe with the contemporary design aesthetic. The walls were given a lacquered look with a high gloss Salty Dog blue. The bar counters were custom designed of blue agate stone in Brazil.
Ryan Hall is a 12,000-square-foot event space. With eight stunning crystal chandeliers and velvet drapes in a refurbished warehouse setting, Ryan Hall has been transformed into a breathtaking space for music concerts, wedding receptions, charity events, and many social gatherings. Ryan Hall is fully equipped with audio and visual capabilities with an interchangeable stage. Seating compacity is 500-1,000 depending on layout for each event in this venue space. Ryan Hall is available for private and public events on request.
The Garage is a 1,700-square-foot heated and cooled space for intimate outdoor gatherings. This space is accented with 120-year-old arched iron gates from New Orleans that open to the lot of the future expansion of the 8,000 square foot amphitheater. This space has floor-to-ceiling windows that make it possible to view the space for its future gated courtyard. These windows provide a clear view of the 6 foot by 6 foot crystal chandelier that anchors the exposed wood beam ceiling. This space is perfect for rehearsal and birthday dinners as well as wedding and bridal showers. The Garage is available for private gatherings on request. The Garage will also showcase unplugged “Garage Sessions” with visiting and local musicians and performers.
THE COBALT SUITE
The Cobalt Suite is a 2,200-square-foot space for our musicians and performers at The Hub. The Cobalt Suite is equipped with a full kitchen, living space, bedroom, conference area, two full bathrooms and a small dressing room. The Cobalt Room is the ultimate space to reserve for bridal parties, showers, and intimate gatherings.
Much detail was taken into designing a hip hangout space for local as well as traveling artists. Oversized leather sofas and metal cowhide rugs anchor the main room. The kitchen cabinets got the Salty Dog blue to make this former storage space pop. Music-inspired art flanks the walls. One of the best additions is the painted records from the developmentally disabled arts students at ARCO. They are the right personal touch to add some heart to his space. Funky print pillows and musician biographies and a few turquoise Buddha heads add a pop of various color to the space.
Last but certainly not least to the design of the HUB is the incredible mural by Louisiana artist and actor Matthew Yerby. In the heat of the June this summer, Matthew came in for three weeks from Los Angeles to create a masterpiece with of many singers and musicians from Northeast Louisiana. These artists have created a legacy and left their thumbprint on the stage locally, regionally and worldwide. Amongst the artists are Louisiana Music Hall of Famers GG Shinn and Doug Duffey; Ray Charles’ lead back up singer Dr. Mabel John; Louisiana Fiddler Champion Hallie Yarbrough; R& B singer Mary Griffin; The British Bayou Icon and theatre legend Mary Simpson, and my dad and piano player Ron Downing.
The HUB officially opened its door mid-September. A large roster of artists are set to play through the remainder of 2019. Tickets and information for these artists can found on the website www.thehubmonroe.com. Among the artists lined up are Blues Prodigy Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and The B.B. King Blues Band on November 7, up and coming rockers Bishop Gunn from Natchez, Miss., on November 14, R&B/ Soul diva Mary Griffin on November 21, ‘80s pop star and legend Taylor Dayne on November 23, Cowboy Mouth on November 30, Colt Ford on December 5, The Equinox Jazz Orchestra Christmas Show on December 13, Marc Broussard on December 14,, piano prodigy, Michael McDowell’s Christmas Spectacular and hip hop legends The Sugarhill Gang and Fantastic 5 on December 28.
The Hub is the heart of the renewed development of downtown Monroe bring together the masses one note at a time.