A promotional stunt met community resistance Thursday when unhappy military and civic boosters took to the Web and the streets to protest the temporary renaming of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena to the Bon Jovi Veterans Arena.
In celebration of an Oct. 6 concert by rock group Bon Jovi, which was announced early Thursday, the Public Facilities District has temporarily renamed the arena. After the concert, the arena will go back to its former name.
But some commenters on local media and the arena’s Facebook page called the move disrespectful and extreme, while others praised the district’s efforts in booking the classic rock band.
The renaming was not intended to cause controversy, arena General Manager Matt Gibson said. The complaints, he added, have been caused by the public misunderstanding that the move is temporary and only intended to draw attention to the concert.
“What started out as a fun promotional idea to try to celebrate the fact that we got this great concert has been distracted by a vocal minority,” Gibson said.
At Thursday’s news conference, Gibson said Bon Jovi is one of the top music acts ever to come to Spokane.
“For Spokane, this is a huge, huge, huge deal,” he said.
Among the protesters were local Army veteran William Hall and his wife, Aregia. Hall, who is disabled, sat Thursday afternoon in a lawn chair outside the arena with a cardboard sign reading “SPOKANE ARENA INSULTS VETERANS! ‘Bon Jovi Arena????” while his wife waved a small American flag.
The couple waved as a driver honked and flashed them a thumbs-up as he drove down Boone Avenue.
“I thought it was going to be something important,” Hall said about the arena’s announcement. “I thought Obama was coming to the arena or something shocking. It’s like, hello, Bon Jovi?”
Hall said he served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany in 1976 when he was 17 years old, doing gun patrol along the Berlin Wall. While he supports promoting the event, he said he’s insulted by the renaming.
“They should have never put somebody else’s name in front of the veterans,” Aregia Hall said. “It sounds to me like they don’t really care about the veterans.”
The arena partnered with the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Resort and Casino to minimize any potential financial losses that may come from booking big names like Bon Jovi. About a year ago, the arena booked Van Halen, but animosity among band members ended the tour before it could arrive in the Inland Northwest.
Gibson said the name change was a way to show the tour promoters Spokane was serious about bringing Bon Jovi and the “Because We Can” tour.
“We have to fight really, really hard to get big shows to come here,” Gibson said.
Event coordinators do not want anyone to think the move is permanent, said Kent Caputo, chief operating officer of the Kalispel Tribal Economic Authority. The rename is just a fun way to advertise an exciting event, he said.
“I hope most vets would realize we’re holding it in the place that we honor them every day and that’s the right place for it,” Caputo said. “That’s what it was meant to be.”
Tickets will cost between $59.50 and $179.50, but when they’ll be on sale has not been announced.