Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elmwood Park amphitheater plan scrubbed

UPDATED Dec. 8: Total cost of Red Light consultant study for both Reserve Avenue and Elmwood Park in April 2009 came to $211,500 according to Brian Townsend, Assistant Manager. (per phone call from Director of Finance, Ann Shawver)

It  is curtains for the amphitheater design that excited Roanokers in April 2009. Monday morning Vice-Mayor David Trinkle let go of the amphitheater project that defined his council tenure. “Given the economy and where we are … I personally would like to see the project move forward but in a downsized fashion,” said Trinkle.

In this economy Trinkle could not “see doing the whole thing at once.” He added that the park needed sprucing up, green space and acoustics built in a repositioned stage. Covered seating and library café and coffee shop could be added later. Trinkle thought this direction would be more appropriate for a city the size of Roanoke.

“It is the gateway to the downtown area,” said Trinkle. He wanted city staff to “go back to the drawing table” based on the results of the plans and knowledge gained from studies conducted over the years. In a July 20, 2009 blog post Trinkle estimated “consultant reports (costing upwards of $800,000)”.

Council member Bill Bestpitch added “we need to be very realistic in terms of the number of people that we can attract … not build something that would leave the facility sitting empty.” He suggested reopening Bullitt Avenue.

Council member Ray Ferris called for an Elmwood Park redo that would “get our arms around the entire park.” The figure Ferris suggested was $3 to $4 million. He asked whether the city had the expertise “in-house” to come up with a basic approach before spending money on new studies. Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend confirmed that the city had the expertise but that “at some point we have to transition to an architectural engineering firm for planning and construction.”

City Manager Chris Morrill said he had experience with spaces similar to Elmwood Park in Savannah, Georgia where he was assistant city manager before coming to Roanoke. Morrill suggested going ahead with funding for a “multi-phased approach.” He envisioned a “Hotel Roanoke to Elmwood Park corridor … it is way underutilized.” He also added public engagement to the process.

In June 2007 Bullock Smith & Partners, consultants in Nashville Tennessee told the Roanoke City council that the Elmwood Park location for an amphitheater was far better than at Reserve Avenue. Trinkle and then council member Gwen Mason preferred the Reserve Avenue site at the time and were skeptical of the consultant’s recommendation. They questioned the consultant’s bias for downtown venues. The consultants defended their recommendations to no avail so council asked for another study.

In April 2009 Red Light Management charged $120,000 to conduct a study for the Reserve Avenue site. When Elmwood Park was added to the study the price tag jumped up too. Ken MacDonald, director of venue management for Red Light recommended Elmwood Park for the same reasons the previous consultants were steadfast in their conclusions.

“The economic activity has so much more potential than at Reserve Avenue … the Elmwood Park location would produce a patron experience resulting in more money spent downtown,” said MacDonald.

The latest Elmwood Park amphitheater design would have seated 5,000 people at a price tag of $12.2 million. This was far less than the $21.3 million plan for Reserve Avenue. It was suggested that with careful planning it would have paid for itself but  MacDonald admitted breaking even was based on “lots of spin-off spending downtown.”

The amphitheater had been coupled with the decades old Victory Stadium debate. In 2003 it was to be built on Orange Avenue. Shortly after it was tabled indefinitely. When the “For the City” Independent ticket of Trinkle, Mason and Dowe won the 2006 council elections the stadium was demolished, football stadiums then sprouted at both high schools and an amphitheater was promised somewhere.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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