August 30, 2017 10:22:34 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
If there were keys to the Terry Brown Amphitheater, the city of Columbus would be getting them next week.
With the $3-million first phase of the project completed, City Engineer Kevin Stafford said all that remains is a final punch-list walk-through before the city takes over the venue, which is located on the west bank of the Tombigbee River at the Columbus Riverwalk.
"We'll be testing all the systems next week to make sure everything's ready to go," Stafford said. "What you have is basically the same thing as across the river (an existing outdoor stage under the Old Highway 82 bridge with grass seating). It's just bigger, less likely to flood and is fully ADA accessible."
As for the keys, they'll have to come later.
Not included in Phase 1 are the major components that will make the amphitheater a venue for paid events. All those components -- perimeter fencing, ticket counters and turnstiles, along with permanent restroom facilities, permanent seating (for roughly 1,700) and a wall that prevents "free viewing'' from outside the facility -- are part of Phase 2.
"We've already got a couple of venue management firms that are telling us once we get our ticket counters and fencing, they are interested in managing the facility," Stafford said.
When that will be is an unanswered question.
The original plans called for the state to fund the entire project through the Legislature's annual bond program. The project received $2.1 million in 2015 and another $1.1 million in 2016, but the Legislature issued no bonds during its 2017 session in the face of the state's ongoing budget crisis.
"It's anybody's guess, really," Stafford said. "We would like to get started on Phase 2, but we have to have the funding first."
Stafford said the city hopes to raise up to $2.5 million to finish the project.
"We have two plans. If we get $2 million, we'll be able to finish it, but we'll have to take some things out of the plans," Stafford said. "Hopefully, we'll get the $2.5 million, though."
Once the funding is secured, Stafford said Phase 2 will be finished quickly.
"All of the dirt work and infrastructure has been done, so once we get the funds, we can go straight up with it," he said. "I would estimate it would take about nine months, start to finish."
In the meantime, the facility can be used for free events, such as the Sounds of Summer concert series sponsored by the Columbus Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Columbus.
"It's a great facility," said Barbara Bigelow, director of Main Street Columbus. "At this point, I haven't discussed how we might use it. Sounds of Summer could certainly be held there, but people love where it is now, so I'm not sure my board would want to move. But I do think there is a lot of potential for the new facility. It's another attraction for our downtown and we're excited to see what happens there."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]