Jerry MacDonald had considered pursuing a career in golf before he found a calling in arena management in the 1970s, but golf clubs still adorn the office of the president and CEO of The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion as the leader finishes 21 years with the outdoor amphitheater. MacDonald will leave the Pavilion in March, according to a July news release from the organization. The outdoor amphitheater, which opened in 1990, is part of the nonprofit The Center for the Performing Arts at The Woodlands. Before joining the Pavilion in 2003, MacDonald had managed the Compaq Center in Houston as well as venues in Florida and Memphis. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the the unique challenges of managing this venue?

Well, it's an outdoor venue. ... [You have] all of the outdoor weather elements to deal with. Generally, you're most concerned with rain, thunder and lightning, and things like that. This year, we've been more concerned with the heat; it's been so hot that it's been a problem. And it's actually affecting sales a little bit. ... One thing we did this year that's a little unique ... is we put our first 20 feet or so on the lawn, we changed that over to Astroturf because that bottom part was getting the most wear and tear, and I had trouble drying it out. So I said, "Let's just do Astroturf." And it's worked. We're going to probably put another; we're going to expand that bottom to a little bit higher going on 20 feet or so up on the lawn, which is good; it has been well received by the patrons.

Are there any other improvements that either have been installed this year or that are coming next year?

Since I've been here, we've done around over $30 million in improvements. The biggest one was in 2008-2009 when Hurricane Ike came through and tore down [and] damaged the full canopy structure. So that was when we decided to expand our seating. We covered the seating area at that time, expanded the canopy to about three times what it was before. So that was the biggest thing. That was the biggest expansion; that was $10 million.

Do you see any further expansion of facilities, any extension of the season or changes in the future?

Well, our focus really is with [The Woodlands] township on trying to get up a performing arts center. We would like to be a part of that. And we've been working with the township on how we can move forward to get a 1,500- to 1,800-seat performing arts center, which we would support. Again, we would most likely operate it also. The site is right on the corner of that parking lot ... on the corner of Six Pines and Lake Robbins.

How has recovery been since the COVID-19 shutdowns?

It’s been great for us. [The year] 2020 was a complete disaster. We had no events; everything was shut down. We didn't know when we were going to open back up, and we opened late kind of mid-to-late summer 2021. And we had a decent season, but it was it was about a half-season. When everything opened up, there was almost too much. All of the artists or all the bands wanted to tour; there was trouble getting enough trucks and buses. All the bands we had, ‘22 was a record year. We had 500,000 paid admissions, we were ranked No. 2 in the world in amphitheaters and total tickets sold. So, it was a fantastic year. [The year] 2023 is a strong year. ... We just had Post Malone last night [Aug. 8]. Our box office gross was over $1.7 million, which was the highest box office grossing show that we've had in history.

What are your personal plans in the future?

I'm kind of open; I mean, I've been here 21 years, I've been in this business for 48 years. So, I'm not saying I'm going to retire, but I still may be here as some type of special adviser going forward. ... I still may be on past ... my contract at end of February. ... I will say that I'm happy with the body of work that we've all completed here. I think that's accomplished everything that we set out to do here when we ... came on board. The biggest thing was when I came on in 2003, that I was asked to improve financial situation of the Pavilion. It was ... finally struggling a little bit financially. We were $10 million in debt. And now ... our endowment now is up to $50 million. So, we can really turn that around. ... And it's very, very good financially. It's in a good, good place. And I think we wanted to improve the brand in the marketplace. We've improved that to where we're more of a dominant concert venue. ... So I think it's time to move on and look to somebody else.

Do you have any memorable moments to share?

Some of my most memorable times were times I got to spend with [The Woodlands founder] George Mitchell. ... He loved the Pavilion and told me many times that one of the best decisions [he had] ever made was building the Pavilion. So, I got to spend quite a bit of time with him. He would call me almost every Monday and wanted to know how we did over the weekend. He'd often come by and attend [performances by the] Houston Symphony. ... When he passed away, his memorial service was at the Pavilion. And ... part of the biggest honor I've ever had, the family asked me to be the master of ceremonies, and introduced everybody on stage. It was the last time that I've seen the whole family together. ... Everybody was here. So to see that and the Houston Symphony perform on stage during his ... memorial service was very memorable.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands