Fort Wayne's newest music venue is opening in an unlikely spot – the former National City Bank building at 1130 E. State Blvd.
The Yellow Bird, an-all ages concert space owned and operated by Fort Wayne native Mike Royal, will host its first show Saturday.
Royal, who has a background in management and sales, bought the building in December after several months of searching for the right property. He said The Yellow Bird is the culmination of a childhood dream.
"My main purpose is just to create an environment where anyone has the ability to come and see live music," Royal said. "I really think it's an important part of the human experience."
Royal said he plans to book a wide variety of original music, although he'll draw the line at any racist acts.
The large concert space on the building's main floor can hold about 250 people. Royal is in the process of installing the stage there, along with a top-of-the-line sound system he pieced together with equipment from a pair of defunct clubs in Austin, Texas.
Royal said he "probably wouldn't even be opening" if it wasn't for the help of Morrison Agen, who owns Neat Neat Neat Records and is heavily involved in Fort Wayne's music scene. Agen introduced Royal to his sound man, Jason Lebel, and has been helping him out in other ways.
"I'm really excited for what Mike's going to bring to the table and what he's going to bring to the city," Agen said. "He's taking a building that has been abandoned for four years and he's doing something productive for the community around it. You can't ask for more than that."
Converting the bank into a music venue hasn't been easy, but Royal has been able to use the building's layout and features to his advantage.
The after-hours walkup window at the front entrance will be the venue's box office, and the bank vault will be a room for vending machines and snacks. The room underneath the vault will be a "green room" for musicians, and Royal said he'll eventually turn the room next to that into a recording studio.
The building holds one other advantage, too: Even though the venue is located near a residential area, there aren't likely to be any complaints about loud music.
"You'd be shocked at how thick these concrete walls are," said Royal. In fact, he said his biggest challenge was maneuvering around them to install the plumbing for restrooms on the main floor. (Royal's other biggest challenge? Welcoming his firstborn child into the world just 19 days after buying the property.)
Royal and Agen both said The Yellow Bird's size is a good fit for the city. It's large enough to accommodate a bigger crowd than most local bars that host shows. At the same time, it's small enough for bands that would have a hard time attracting an audience to fill larger venues such as C2G Music Hall or the Embassy Theatre.
Royal said his venue's location is also well-suited for what he's trying to do. It's close to North Side High School and the campuses of Ivy Tech and IPFW, which fits in well with the all-ages audiences he's seeking. Plus, it's a part of East State Village, a stretch of shops and restaurants that has been the target of some recent revitalization efforts.
One neighborhood resident sees some opportunities for Royal, as well as some challenges.
"One of the components of a vital neighborhood … is that many have a facility where you can go and be entertained…" said Andy Downs, who's also the director of IPFW's Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. "I can see this helping to revitalize the neighborhood and bring some vibrancy to the neighborhood."
Downs said there are also "plenty of areas of possible disagreement" with nearby residents, such as noise and crowds. He said it will be important for Royal to demonstrate that he'll be a good neighbor.
For his part, Royal said he's aware of those potential pitfalls. He's also hoping to get the neighborhood involved in what he's doing.
"I really want to get some community events going here…" Royal said. "The only requirement is that it's music-oriented in some way. Maybe somebody has a good idea I haven't thought of."
Agen is optimistic about The Yellow Bird's long-term prospects in the community.
"If there's anybody who's doing it the right way, it's probably Mike," he said. “A lot of times when people try to start all-ages venues, they do it with this crazy idealism in mind, without a lot of reality grounding them. Mike's coming at it from a purely business perspective, which will allow him to stay in it for the long run."