Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, speaks at the 2023 State of Downtown Baltimore meeting Tuesday. Photo by Elijah Davis Jr.

Baltimore’s refurbished CFG Bank Arena is on target to present 120 concerts and other events in its first year of operation, or about one show every three days.

Tickets for the first concert, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, sold out in 20 minutes. Others have sold out, too.

And that’s before most Baltimoreans have been inside the building to see the results of a $200-250 million renovation designed to turn it into a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, said Randi Bernstein, senior vice president of Oak View Group (OVG), the Los Angeles-based organization that now manages the 14,000-seat venue at 201 West Baltimore Street, formerly known as the Royal Farms Arena.

“Our project is doing incredibly well,” Bernstein said this week. “We have Bruce in April the first week that it’s open, Lizzo in May. We’re on track for 120 events in a year – ranging from concerts to comedy shows, sporting events, family shows…People haven’t even really been in the building yet, and I think once they come in and see the premium offerings, and the food and beverage offerings, which are really unlike anything else in the city at the moment, they’re going to come back for more.”

On Tuesday, Bernstein gave an update on the project during the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore’s 2023 State of Downtown Baltimore meeting, and promised the arena will be ready for its first two concerts less than a month away, Springsteen on April 7 and The Eagles Hotel California Tour on April 8.

Mayor Brandon Scott, who also spoke at the Downtown Partnership meeting, said he thinks the bookings and brisk ticket sales are signs that the city made a good decision to upgrade the existing arena, which dates from the 1960s, rather than construct a new one on a different site.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at the 2023 State of Downtown Baltimore meeting Tuesday. Photo by Elijah Davis Jr.

“Folks told me that I was crazy, that we were putting lipstick on a pig,” Scott said. “But when you see what’s happened in there from our partners at Oak View, when you see that the tickets are selling out, you know that we now have a world-class venue right in downtown Baltimore, that the taxpayers didn’t have to pay for, that will drive people into the core” of downtown.

Owned by the City of Baltimore, the arena opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center and later was renamed the 1st Mariner Arena (2003 to 2013) and the Royal Farms Arena (2014 to 2022). It was one of the first places The Beatles appeared during their inaugural trip to America in 1964, and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there in 1966. The Baltimore Bullets and Baltimore Clippers played there for many years. 

As the arena grew older, city officials contemplated constructing a replacement elsewhere but couldn’t decide on a location. They eventually opted to keep the existing venue and bring in a new management team to upgrade it to be competitive with other East Coast arenas. The decision was part of a larger effort to revitalize the west side of downtown Baltimore, where a new building for the city’s Lexington Market recently opened several blocks away.

Other members of Oak View Group’s team in Baltimore are Thirty Five Ventures, the investment company of NBA player Kevin Durant and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, and recording artist Pharrell Williams. The Oak View Group team funded the improvements in return for rights to manage and lease the facility, and it’s offering seat leases as part of the ticketing options.

Renovation work began in early 2022 and included a revamped seating configuration; new concourses, restrooms, and concessions areas; updated mechanical systems and a redesigned exterior. The refurbished arena had a test run last month, when Baltimore hosted the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, but there was still more work to finish.

After Springsteen and The Eagles, the lineup includes: Straight Jokes No Chaser, April 14; Jeff Dunham Still Not Canceled, April 15; Adam Sandler, April 21; New Edition: Legacy Tour with Keith Sweat, Guy and Special Guest Tank, April 22; Monster Jam, April 28 to 30; AEW Dynamite, May 3 and Lizzo, May 9.

Also, Janet Jackson: Together Again with Special Guest Ludacris, May 13; Anita Baker: The Songstress with the Legendary Babyface, May 14; blink-182 Tour 2023, May 26; Stars on Ice, June 2; Bryan Adams: So Happy It Hurts 2023 with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, June 6; Bert Kreischer’s Fully Loaded Comedy Festival, June15, and Dude Perfect PandaMonium, June 25.

Performances scheduled for later in 2023: Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show; Thomas Rhett; Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire; Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; and Kiss – the End of the Road Tour. The CFG Bank Arena website is

Randi Bernstein (middle), senior vice president of Oak View Group, speaks during a panel discussion at the the 2023 State of Downtown Baltimore meeting Tuesday. Bernstein was joined on the panel by (left to right) Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, who served as moderator; P. David Bramble, David Bramble, managing partner at MCB Real Estate, the developer of Harborplace; Joseph Soleiman, principal at Vivo Investment Group; and Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, who presented about economic development in the downtown area. Photo by Elijah Davis Jr.

Bernstein said Oak View Group decided to invest in the arena largely because one, co-founder Tim Leiweke started his career at the arena working for the Baltimore Blast and was familiar with it, and two, the company saw an opportunity in the market.

“Baltimore was one of the few major cities that lacked an arena that could support major acts,” she said. “The building was limited in capacity and had inadequate production capabilities, and so major tours skipped right over Baltimore.”

Baltimore’s East Coast location  made the arena attractive to renovate, she said: “When you look at Baltimore on a map, it just makes so much sense.” Part of its appeal, she said, is that the arena wasn’t a home for major league sports teams and therefore had more dates to offer entertainers.

“The two other buildings in the vicinity, Capital One [Arena] in D. C. and Wells Fargo Center in Philly, really didn’t have dates for music because of the fact that they had so many sports teams playing in their buildings, and so Baltimore made a lot of sense,” she said.

Bernstein said the Oak View Group’s 11-month construction schedule was “very aggressive,” but the Mayor’s Office and agencies such as Visit Baltimore and the Baltimore Development Corp. helped make it possible.

“We have projects all over the world, and I would say this one had the most challenging timeline and it was the most seamless project to execute,” she said. “We couldn’t have had better partners…The responsiveness, the cooperation…This was truly the best.”

Other highlights from the 2023 State of Downtown Baltimore report:

Downtown is expected to see $6.5 billion in investment between 2018 and 2028. Approximately $1.5 billion has been spent to date, leaving $5 billion to come.

Downtown has 126,000 jobs, up from 117,000 in 2020.

Downtown Baltimore is the 13th largest U. S. metro area by population, with 39,168 residents.

Downtown had retail sales of $955 million in 2022.

The full report can be viewed here.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.