In June of 2009, Brent Andersen – the founder and CEO of the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Salt Lake City – headed over to Barcelona, Spain to see U2 kick off their 360° world tour. Long before he even got to his seat at Camp Nou stadium, he caught glimpse of the Claw, the single largest stage ever constructed. “I didn’t even want to walk into the stadium,” says Andersen. “I was kind of holding up the line because I just wanted to look at it and take it in. I didn’t really view it as just simply a functional piece of architecture. For me, it was a dynamic sculpture. It was a work of art.”
When the aquarium acquired nine new acres of nearby land for an expansion, Andersen’s mind went back to the Claw and an article he read about how the group was selling it. Boston real estate firm Panther Management even launched a website to showcase how it could be used as a permanent concert stage, an exhibition hall, a theme park, a civic plaza or even a biodome. Andersen reached out and struck a deal to acquire the one used on the North American tour. (Another claw was used for the European dates and a third one appears to have been disassembled.) If all goes according to plan, it will be fully in place by June of 2019.
The Claw currently resides in an undisclosed East Coast location, but plans are already in place to ship it to Salt Lake City (no easy feat considering its 190-ton weight, 165-feet height and 28,287 square feet). “There was a lot of engineering issues that we had to get through,” says Andersen. “This giant structure was meant to be assembled and disassembled in the span of about three days and then moved. We are turning it into a permanent structure that should last for 70 or 80 years.”
Once in place, the Claw will be a lot more than just an oversized ornament to welcome visitors to the aquarium. Loveland is considering holding concerts for up to 7,000 people on the site. It will also serve as a site for movie screenings, farmers markets and other special events year-round. But more than anything, Andersen thinks the Claw will help with their central mission statement of helping visitors understand and respect Earth’s ecosystems.
“Ultimately, we’re creating an engaging and interactive and aesthetically exciting experience, that’s also educational,” he says. “Numerous studies have shown that people are more receptive to learning when they are in a state of wonder or fascination. Most cultural institutions, whether they are commissioning sculptures or adding design elements to their buildings or exhibitions, are doing it for the purpose of creating a richer experience for the guest.”
The Claw was last in Salt Lake City when U2’s 360° tour hit Rice-Eccles Stadium on May 24th, 2011. There’s no word on whether or not U2 will return at some point to visit their old stage. “Everyone is asking that,” says Andersen. “It certainly would be wonderful if they did.”