DRAPER, Utah (ABC4) – It is impossible to miss when driving near Draper on I-15. Some call it gorgeous and majestic. Others call it an eyesore. However you label it, one thing’s certain, the giant 16-story, four-legged structure outside of the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is eyecatching.
As fascinating as the oddly shaped, seemingly extraterrestrial feat of engineering may look, its origin story is even more spectacular.
Known now as the Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory, or EECO, by the folks at its new home, the structure has been seen and celebrated all around the world. Prior to its permanent installation at the aquarium, the EECO served as the stage for rock band U2’s legendary 360-degree Tour. With seven tour legs and 110 shows all over the world, the two-year-long event landed a spot in music history as the most commercially successful tour of all time.
The 200-ton stage, which was the largest ever constructed, was the centerpiece of global spectacle and now has a permanent home in the Salt Lake Valley.
“It has these features that seem very much the like tentacles like an octopus or very crab-like and that really ties in well with the theme of the aquarium,” Ari Robinson, the aquarium’s Director of Creative Design, explains to ABC4.com “It’s a very beautiful structure it’s like a big sculpture almost. It’s awesome.”
Before landing in Draper for good, the stage likely saw much of the globe as it was one of three stages built for the worldwide tour, leap-frogging from city-to-city in Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, and North America.
Setting up the stage to dominate the landscape at whatever stadium it was to appear in was a massive undertaking. Kristy Holt, who has worked in events at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium knows that better than anyone; the crew at her venue had to set up and take down the stage twice.
Set to be the kick-off point of the North American leg of the tour on June 3, 2010, Holt remembers finding out about 48 hours to show time that the date would have to be postponed due to a back injury by the band’s frontman, Bono.
“It was a very weird thing because I got the call driving into work that morning,” Holt recalls. “We had the finishing touches to do, like some of the laser lights and the video wall and all that kind of stuff. We just turned around and started taking it right back down.”
Nearly a year later, on May 24, 2011, after another three-week setup period involving 56 trailers of equipment and stage pieces put together by a crew of over 1,000, Bono and his bandmates gave the sellout crowd in Salt Lake City a night to remember.
Holt ranks the event as the second biggest to ever take place at the stadium, behind the festivities for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Her favorite part in particular about the gigantic stage, which cradled the band in the center of the audience, as it was designed to do, was the cone-shaped video board in the center, which moved up and down, creating a different look for each song.
“It was really cool,” she says. “There was a great atmosphere in the stadium. People who are U2 fans are lifelong fans. They know all the songs, they know all about the band.
After the curtains closed on the tour in July 2011, the plan was to set up the three stages in various parts of the world as full-time concert venues. That, however, never materialized. Robinson says he heard that one of the three stages was scrapped for parts and metal. The third one has been uncounted for (perhaps The Edge is using it as a gazebo in his backyard, who knows?).
It took a number of “happy accidents” to get the EECO installed in Draper. When the aquarium’s CEO, Brent Anderson, heard it was available, he excitedly mentioned it as a possibility to his team. Upon dropping in a 3D model to concept drawings that were being worked on for a plaza in front of the building, it was found to be a perfect fit for the space.
A year-long process of relocating the stage from Pennsylvania to Utah, combined with the engineering challenges of making a movable structure permanent, followed.
Since opening the plaza to guests, the area has been a hit, Robinson says. It has been especially useful during the pandemic to provide a community gathering space for fun and entertainment with plenty of room for social distancing.
“Everything had been kind of locked down with COVID. so it was really cool to go out and see families, all social distanced out on the grass and kids dancing to the music and being excited about the lights,” he reflects on the first couple of events under the EECO.
Robinson feels that the structure, which housed some of the most memorable concerts in modern music history, has a great home in Utah in front of a place intended to provide a sense of discovery. The technical marvel has a magical quality that sets the tone for a better understanding of the natural marvels shown in the aquarium.
“What we found here is that when people have that experience that moment of odd inspiration, it really sets the stage and opens their mind to learning and exploration. They’re more receptive to learning about the natural world and how we’re all connected in the global ecosystem.”
It’s the perfect place to “walk to the water,” as Bono would croon.