Saturday, August 01, 2009
Groups urge Roanoke not to kill amphitheater project
The civic organizations say the council should continue to study the facility's benefits.
Two groups that promote business development want members of the Roanoke City Council to reconsider their reconsideration of an amphitheater proposed for Elmwood Park in downtown Roanoke.
Officials for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Roanoke Inc. said Friday that they were surprised and disappointed when the council voted July 20 to drop the amphitheater from the city's five-year capital improvements plan.
The vote effectively killed the project. The capital plan had included $13 million for the amphitheater's construction in 2013. Architectural and engineering work that would precede construction had an estimated price tag of about $1.2 million.
Joyce Waugh, chamber president, said the organizations are asking the council to revisit the issue "to move this a little farther down the field" before abandoning additional analysis of the amphitheater's economic impact and viability.
"We're not saying, 'Go out and build it,' " she said.
She said an amphitheater in Elmwood Park would help boost downtown's ongoing revitalization and attract customers to the farmers market, the Roanoke City Market Building, downtown merchants and hotels. City tax revenues would increase as a result, she said.
In a statement released Friday, the chamber and DRI acknowledged that council members "have raised valid questions regarding the amphitheater's affordability." It said those questions must be resolved before building the 5,000-seat facility and that additional analysis could provide that resolution.
In early July, members of the city council had voted 6-1 to move forward with amphitheater-related architectural and engineering work.
But Councilman Court Rosen subsequently described second thoughts tied to current economic conditions and competing municipal needs. Council members Sherman Lea, Gwen Mason and Anita Price agreed. Mayor David Bowers and Councilman Rupert Cutler voted to keep the project in the capital improvements plan.
Councilman David Trinkle, a longtime advocate of an amphitheater, was absent from that meeting.
On Friday afternoon, Trinkle said he had not yet seen the statement released by the chamber and DRI but added that, based on his general understanding of its contents, he agreed with their position.
"That makes sense to me," Trinkle said.
He said proceeding with the architectural and engineering phase would provide more precise numbers for formulating a potential operating budget and help determine what subsidy might be required from city taxpayers to keep the amphitheater running.
"We should have a true sense of a subsidy before we pull the plug," Trinkle said.
He said the amphitheater project has "gone through a very long, deliberative process that has taken many years" and he believes it makes sense to keep moving forward.
In a separate interview Friday, Mason also cited the prolonged deliberative process but described a different conclusion. Analysis to date suggests that the city should shelve the project until economic conditions improve, she said.
Even though Trinkle favors renewed discussion about the amphitheater, he said he will not bring up the issue again anytime soon.
Mason said she won't either.