Amphitheater, riverside park make big splash downtown


Tonight’s long-awaited formal opening of the $8 million Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre provides indisputable proof of downtown on the grow. Indeed, it’s literally growing out while growing up.

The transformation over the past six months of a large swath of blighted and depopulated property on the southern edge of downtown into a verdant 22-acre entertainment complex and riverfront park has been nothing short of amazing.

The music center with its four-story-tall stage and its pedestrian-friendly landscaped environs enlarges and energizes the renaissance ongoing over the past decade in the central city. It also adds an added dash of urban sophistication and maturity to the area, on par with similar green-space downtown riverside tracts in major metropolitan centers across the United States.

In addition to enhancing the economic and aesthetic revitalization of the downtown, the project first proposed eight years ago also strengthens the viability of the central business district as the go-to top-tier entertainment venue year-round and reinforces the big-bang value of public-private partnerships for community enrichment.

Physically, the amphitheater and Mahoning River park stand as the latest piece of the city’s urban renewal puzzle. Next to its welcoming gates on Phelps Street stands the 85-year-old Youngstown Municipal Courthouse, which opened last year after a massive $9 million renovation that just this week won a 2019 Community Revitalization Award from the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Elsewhere downtown, construction is set to begin next month on the $11.5 million Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center at Fifth Avenue and Commerce Street and preliminary work has begun on a massive $21 million infrastructure-improvement project throughout downtown and the Youngstown State University district.

These and other projects feed upon one another, thereby inviting more projects and more successes to the Valley’s urban core.

AMPHITHEATre FILLS VOID

From a purely business perspective, the open-air concert “boutique” – as promoters are calling it – will fill a gaping hole. JAC Management Group , which manages the nearby Covelli Centre arena and will run the amphitheater, has long bemoaned the lack of adequate and appropriate space to attract musical artists to the downtown during the summer months, when outdoor venues are all the rage.

Adequate and appropriate, however, don’t even come close to describing the contours of the new facility. The mammoth stage area and seating for nearly 5,000 patrons rival that of other big-city outdoor concert venues, such as Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on the waterfront in downtown Cleveland.

It also stands as a complementary big brother to the Valley’s other outdoor concert venue, the 2,500-capacity Warren Community Amphitheatre that attracts throngs every weekend to its series of tribute musical acts.

The booking of big-name acts this inaugural summer testifies to the big-league status of YFA. Acts already scheduled include Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, Brett Eldredge and Rob Thomas. Such sizzling headliners should easily fill the grounds to capacity.

That means the economic jolt of the new venture will ripple across downtown businesses. Already, bars and restaurants in the entertainment district have added staff in anticipation of the spillover impact.

It’s indeed pleasing to see such strong private community support for the amphitheater and riverfront park. In fact, about 50 percent of the cost to construct the venue has been donated by private sources, most notably The Youngstown Foundation that chipped in $3 million for naming rights for the amp.

Other major supporters include Huntington Bank, whose donations have earned it naming rights of the Community Alley festival area between the Covelli Centre and the amp, and Home Savings Bank, which has contributed $500,000 for free community events at the venue, that included Friday night’s preview concert with local acts.

Also deserving kudos are Brock & Associates Builders Inc. of North Lima, which built the amphitheater with help from Valley subcontractors Boak & Sons and Tri-Area Electric.

With all work completed on schedule, all systems are go for tonight’s opening Michael Stanley/Donny Iris concert.

“It’s been a very long time coming,” said Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management. “It’s amazing to see what we envisioned. It’s going to be a huge source of pride for Youngstown.”

We couldn’t agree more. Reinventing the riverfront promises to make a splash on the downtown, the city and the Valley for years and decades to come.

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