Parx opens concert venue in Bensalem

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Xcite Center is the new music theater at Parx casino in Bensalem.

The Xcite Center is the new music theater at Parx casino in Bensalem. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

When the Parx Casino opened in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, in 2006, owner Watche “Bob” Manoukian intended that it would have its own concert venue. But it took 11 years to figure out how that would work.

Now that he has, the Xcite Center will open this weekend with an inaugural concert by the band Chicago. With just over 1,500 seats, the live music venue is the largest indoor concert facility in Bucks County — and among the largest in the Philadelphia suburbs.

It’s also one of the most technically advanced. The room has been designed with sound-dampening material in order to be as acoustically “dead” as a recording studio, to give more control to the sound designer. It is also equipped with cameras and large-screen monitors to create a multimedia arena concert experience.

“We want to give an experience of the Academy [of Music] or the Kimmel Center, and see top-tier acts that way, not in a club environment,” said Nathan Powell, director of entertainment technology and design.

Before coming to Parx, Powell had a career touring Broadway musicals, learning a thing or two about the logistics of working the road. He designed the backstage to be as comfortable as the front of house so everyone goes away happy.

The performers get posh suites, while the road crew can pull production trucks into dedicated docks built to standard loading height. The crew’s lounge is equipped with laundry facilities. Even the backstage bathrooms are large.

The kind of acts already booked into the venue through mid-summer – including Reba McEntire, Wayne Brady, Third Eye Blind, and Rascal Flatts — are accustomed to playing arenas and stadiums for 50,000 or 60,000 people. This relatively intimate 1,500-seat venue offers a high-quality room with an easy production workflow.

The Xcite Center is opening just as the regional gaming industry is tightening up, with a new casino about to be built in South Philadelphia and Pennsylvania allowing online gaming.

Parx is one of the state’s best-performing casinos, in terms of gaming revenue. The state’s Gaming Control Board numbers for November ranks Parx second, just shy of the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.

Chief marketing officer Mark Oppenheimer said he is confident in Parx gaming revenue; this new concert venue is a play to attract nongamblers.

“We felt like, now that we’ve been here for 10 years, the people who want to gamble have found Parx,” said Oppenheimer. “Yes, online gaming is coming, and there is a South Philly property coming. That’s competition on the casino side, and we’re prepared to handle that.

“What this venue really is about is opening up reasons to visit here for people who hadn’t thought to visit before.”

The Xcite Center is part of a building expansion that includes three new restaurants and a 48-table poker room — formerly housed at the nearby racetrack — which brings Parx poker business into the same building as its slot machines.

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