Amphitheater on track for June opening

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Standing on the stage of the soon-to-open Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, your first thought might be “I’ve never seen so much green in downtown Youngstown.”

But the $8 million facility, set to open June 14, promises to be much more than a grassy expanse. It promises to be a community focal point and a pleasant place to spend an evening.

On Monday, officials from the city, the Youngstown Foundation and JAC Management Group led media representatives on a tour of the new amphitheater that sits in a 32-acre park-like area.

The sky was blue, but green was the color on everyone’s mind.

“It’s a beautiful day but not just because of the weather,” said Derrick McDowell, community liaison for the new facility, “but because Youngstown is celebrating a moment where we are all coming together to work toward completing a goal.

“Our grass is green,” he said in pre-tour remarks. “It is being watered. It is being cultivated. ... We need to stop looking at other places’ lawns. ... [Youngstown] is becoming a destination. We are dispelling the myth that there is nothing to do in Youngstown, that nothing good can come from here.”

McDowell’s comments followed remarks from Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, and Youngstown Foundation director Jan Strasfeld. As McDowell spoke, a flatbed tractor-trailer entered the facility carrying more rolls of sod.

Eric Ryan, president of JAC LIVE and JAC Management Group, and Brown noted the public-private partnerships that made the amphitheater possible.

The Youngstown Foundation, which has the naming rights, donated more than $3 million to the project, while Home Savings Bank is underwriting the community events series which will include free or low-cost admission to all events. Sweeney Chevrolet is sponsoring the VIP area.

Ryan recalled how the vision for the amphitheater expanded.

“[JAC Management Group] has been managing Covelli Centre for about 10 years now, and about seven years ago we came up with the idea for an amphitheater,” he said. “It really wasn’t that well-received at first. [But] our vision at first was not this. It was to put up a stage and maybe some orange fencing every now and then for shows. But that’s not what we built here. We didn’t build an amphitheater. We built what we call a boutique music center.”

With its partnership with LiveNation, the world’s largest concert promoter, the inaugural season lineup is in place that includes the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago and Steely Dan.

“This is fantastic,” Ryan said. “The mayor and city council gave us the tools to do the job and at a high enough level to make everyone happy.”

The amphitheater has a capacity of about 5,000, with 3,000 in the lawn, 1,500 more in the orchestra area in front of the stage, which has a concrete base and temporary seats, and another 500 in the VIP area.

The orchestra area will also be used as a standing-room area for some shows.

Entrance to the amphitheater will be through a manicured opening at the foot of South Phelps Street. On the evenings of events, Front and South Phelps streets in the area will be closed to traffic.

The goal is to create an area safe for pedestrians to enjoy dinner and drinks before and after shows by walking to bars and restaurants downtown.

Just inside the entrance is a concourse that extends along the entire rear side, with a beer stand, a main building with a concession stand and bathrooms, and a second building with a box office, merchandise stand, first-aid facility and offices.

There will also be bathrooms outside the fenced-in facility for year-round use by those using the surrounding park and community area.

To provide local flavors, an area for food trucks and possibly regional brewers is available on the west side of the amphitheater.

The VIP area, which is on the east side of the amp, will feature a cabana area for shade, and a concession stand. Each VIP ticket will include use of a lawn chair.

In the general lawn area, guests can bring their own lawn chair, with a seat height of no more than 9 inches off the ground, such as a beach chair. For larger events, the facility will rent the chairs for $5 and will not permit patrons to bring their own so as to maintain size and height requirements, Ryan said.

The massive stage is backed by a third building that will include dressing rooms, a green room and a management office.

The stage, which will be able to accommodate the largest acts, has a loading dock on one side, and room for tour buses on the other.

The amphitheater is just one part of what will be a 32-acre riverfront park, Ryan said.

To the east, under the Market Street Bridge, will be Community Alley, which will open in August.

Lights will be installed on the bridge pillars to illuminate the area, which will be used for festivals and other community events.

Community Alley will have space for a temporary stage, and a promenade walkway under the bridge to make it convenient to walk to the 600-plus vehicle parking lot at Covelli Centre.

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