City officials in Columbus are considering asking the legislature to fund the $4 million completion of the Island amphitheater project during the next session, Mayor Keith Gaskin said during the council’s work session Thursday.
“The amphitheater is something the council and I have been working on since I’ve been in office,” Gaskin said. “(We’ve been trying) to find additional funding to complete the amphitheater.”
The Sen. Terry Brown Amphitheater was originally presented to the state legislature in 2015, with an ask of $5 million, said City Engineer Kevin Stafford. However, the state only awarded $3.2 million.
“The first phase was obviously well underfunded, so it only accomplished a little under half at that time and of course we’re talking about 2016 dollars,” Stafford said.
The project has not seen much improvement since 2016 and suffered floods from the adjacent Tombigbee River in 2019 and 2020.
Stafford said around $500,000 was awarded from the legislature in 2019, but by then, costs had already increased.
Now, the costs have increased even more, and he said that a 35 percent inflation factor has been applied to the remaining costs.
“As time goes, the remaining pieces of the amphitheater have gotten more and more expensive because of inflation and all of the things that we know have gone on with construction,” Stafford said.
The $4 million ask this year is to complete the entire project. Remaining work includes installing hardback seating, adding restrooms and concessions as well as turnstiles and ticket booths. The city also aims to fence the venue and add final landscaping, as well as a few other projects.
“The other thing that’s out there is, the city, several years ago, bought some additional acreages to the west of the amphitheater for parking. So, since then they’ve cleaned off that acreage. … That was not on the original plan,” Stafford said. “It was part of the original plan, it’s just the property wasn’t acquired when we first started in 2016. Now, obviously, we’ve acquired the property and have the deed to finish that parking lot, so that has now increased the ask, if you will, for the amphitheater, from its original funding.”
He said the estimated cost of completing the lot is $500,000.
Area legislators are uncertain about the success of the proposed ask, however.
“It’s going to be hard to get anything in our area since we got all that we got with the aluminum plant,” said District 17 Senator Chuck Younger. “I don’t see us getting a whole lot, but it won’t hurt to ask. … I don’t feel like my colleagues will be real high on it.”
Newly-elected District 37 Representative Andy Boyd said he didn’t know if he would support the ask at all.
“Without a few more facts, and with the status it’s been in, I don’t think, currently, I would be in favor of it,” Boyd said. “I need to know a lot more.”
While it presents a funding challenge, most legislators want to see the project completed.
“I feel like the state has already committed dollars, years ago, for the amphitheater,” said District 39 Representative Dana McLean. “So … it’s really a waste if we don’t complete it.”
District 41 Representative Kabir Karriem is also in support of finishing the project, however, he doesn’t believe the state should bear the entire weight.
“I would hope that the city would have some skin in the game as we go forward, back to session, asking for money for certain projects,” Karriem said. “But it’s something that needs to be completed, I agree with the city on that. How it needs to be completed or funded, I guess that’s the whole topic of discussion.”
If the project were to be funded in the next session, the results would not be immediate.
“If it were funded, it wouldn’t come out until later in the session, so late March, early April,” Stafford said. “Normally when those funds are approved, they’re not available until June or July. So, for all intents and purposes, it would probably be late next year before we could get construction bids.”
He said that if everything went smoothly, and work was to begin in early 2024, he estimates a late 2024, early 2025 completion.
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