Concert venue strikes a chord with city

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

The site of the planned amphitheater, with the War Memorial in the background. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

A proposed downtown amphitheater that would eventually host the Richmond Folk Festival hit a high note Monday.

The Richmond Planning Commission unanimously approved a conceptual plan for a new amphitheater to be built on Tredegar Green, next to the Tredegar Iron Works. That vote of support comes almost two weeks after the city’s urban design committee returned a 4-4 vote on the proposed venue amid concerns over preservation of the Kanawha Canal and potential effects on neighboring Oregon Hill.

Venture Richmond, which owns most of the land and will develop the venue, will present a final plan to the commission in October. If the project is approved, the amphitheater could host events up to four days a year without a zoning change or special-use permit.

Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, said the $500,000 project is vital for the continuation of the Folk Festival, which draws about 200,000 attendees each year. The plan is for the venue to be ready for the 2014 festival.

The site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

Its use could eventually extend beyond the popular festival. Berry said the organization will pursue a zoning change for expanded use once the amphitheater has been built.

“Once everyone sees how beautiful it is, they will probably think it’s a good idea to use it more than four days a year,” he said.

Venture Richmond, an economic development and regional marketing organization focused on downtown, plans to build the amphitheater on a 4.5-acre tract of land facing the Virginia War Memorial. The site, divided among four parcels, stretches across land owned by the city and land that NewMarket Corp. granted last year to Venture Richmond.

The Kanawha Canal, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, cuts through about 500 feet of the amphitheater site, part of it on city property and part on Venture Richmond’s land. The amphitheater plan would narrow that portion of the canal and lower its towpath.

Planning Commission staff concluded that these narrowed dimensions would be sufficient to preserve the canal for future navigability, although it is currently dry most of the year.

“We think this is a pretty good rehabilitation – if not a restoration – of the canal,” said planner Tyler Potterfield, who submitted an advisory report to the urban design committee.

Should the planning commission approve the final plan, zoning will be the amphitheater’s next obstacle. The land north of the canal is zoned for a residential-office use, which does not permit an amphitheater use. South of the canal the site is zoned light industrial, which could accommodate an amphitheater but is subject to parking requirements.

An ordinance adopted for Richmond’s Greek Festival, however, allows land to be used for festivals for no more than four days over a 12-month period. The Folk Festival, a three-day event, could be hosted at the site without rezoning.

Specifics such as hours of use and parking will be considered should amphitheater proponents bring a request for a zoning change.

If approved, the new amphitheater will host the main stage for the yearly Folk Festival. Land owned by NewMarket has housed the main stage since the festival’s inception more than eight years ago.

“They offered [the land] to us for three years, and that was eight years ago,” Berry said. “It’s private property, and it’s just time for us to return it to NewMarket for them to use for their own business purposes.”

Nearby residents through the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council recommended moving the main stage to Brown’s Island in a 60-page report issued this month. Venture Richmond contends the festival needs the island for two large covered stages that cannot be moved to Tredegar Green because of slope issues.

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

The site of the planned amphitheater, with the War Memorial in the background. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

A proposed downtown amphitheater that would eventually host the Richmond Folk Festival hit a high note Monday.

The Richmond Planning Commission unanimously approved a conceptual plan for a new amphitheater to be built on Tredegar Green, next to the Tredegar Iron Works. That vote of support comes almost two weeks after the city’s urban design committee returned a 4-4 vote on the proposed venue amid concerns over preservation of the Kanawha Canal and potential effects on neighboring Oregon Hill.

Venture Richmond, which owns most of the land and will develop the venue, will present a final plan to the commission in October. If the project is approved, the amphitheater could host events up to four days a year without a zoning change or special-use permit.

Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, said the $500,000 project is vital for the continuation of the Folk Festival, which draws about 200,000 attendees each year. The plan is for the venue to be ready for the 2014 festival.

The site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

Its use could eventually extend beyond the popular festival. Berry said the organization will pursue a zoning change for expanded use once the amphitheater has been built.

“Once everyone sees how beautiful it is, they will probably think it’s a good idea to use it more than four days a year,” he said.

Venture Richmond, an economic development and regional marketing organization focused on downtown, plans to build the amphitheater on a 4.5-acre tract of land facing the Virginia War Memorial. The site, divided among four parcels, stretches across land owned by the city and land that NewMarket Corp. granted last year to Venture Richmond.

The Kanawha Canal, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, cuts through about 500 feet of the amphitheater site, part of it on city property and part on Venture Richmond’s land. The amphitheater plan would narrow that portion of the canal and lower its towpath.

Planning Commission staff concluded that these narrowed dimensions would be sufficient to preserve the canal for future navigability, although it is currently dry most of the year.

“We think this is a pretty good rehabilitation – if not a restoration – of the canal,” said planner Tyler Potterfield, who submitted an advisory report to the urban design committee.

Should the planning commission approve the final plan, zoning will be the amphitheater’s next obstacle. The land north of the canal is zoned for a residential-office use, which does not permit an amphitheater use. South of the canal the site is zoned light industrial, which could accommodate an amphitheater but is subject to parking requirements.

An ordinance adopted for Richmond’s Greek Festival, however, allows land to be used for festivals for no more than four days over a 12-month period. The Folk Festival, a three-day event, could be hosted at the site without rezoning.

Specifics such as hours of use and parking will be considered should amphitheater proponents bring a request for a zoning change.

If approved, the new amphitheater will host the main stage for the yearly Folk Festival. Land owned by NewMarket has housed the main stage since the festival’s inception more than eight years ago.

“They offered [the land] to us for three years, and that was eight years ago,” Berry said. “It’s private property, and it’s just time for us to return it to NewMarket for them to use for their own business purposes.”

Nearby residents through the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council recommended moving the main stage to Brown’s Island in a 60-page report issued this month. Venture Richmond contends the festival needs the island for two large covered stages that cannot be moved to Tredegar Green because of slope issues.

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Scott Burger
Scott Burger
8 years ago

Residents, preservationists, and proponents of good government lost Monday. If people think this was about restoring the Canal or just helping the Folk Festival, then they are being extremely naive and stupid. This was also a precursor for forcing the Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium. I am sad for my neighborhood but also for Richmond in general. Our historic landmarks and quality of life are being sacrificed. The neighbors at the Overlook, Oregon Hill and the War Memorial have every expectation that the existing zoning will not be altered in a way that would prevent quiet use of their property. It… Read more »

Marcus Squires
Marcus Squires
8 years ago

Honestly, you live in the city it is a fact of life Oregon Hill may have at one point in time been a bastion for the quiet loving city dweller but more and more young people are moving into the city like myself and this is a great opportunity for not only the area but the city as a whole. You talk of the surrounding places such as the war memorial as if they were places of silence, but the thing is, they are not. The city may have stipulations which were not followed according to you but honestly you… Read more »

Nancy Trego
Nancy Trego
8 years ago

Oh Marcus, I assure you that Scott is not a status quo kind of guy! All of us who live in the city have chosen an urban lifestyle. I love the festivals and runs, etc., but Venture Richmond has not been willing to consider any restrictions whatsoever on this project. There’s a concert every Friday night on Brown’s Island during the summer, and I enjoy hearing it from my front porch. However, there have been times that I haven’t been able to escape the booming reverberations even inside with doors and windows closed and my own music turned on. The… Read more »

Scott Burger
Scott Burger
8 years ago

Marcus, Oregon Hill has been very tolerant and appreciative of the Folk Festival and Browns Island concerts over the years. Many of us have been involved in music and the local music scene. But its morally wrong for the City to force a theater with unlimited use right next door to our 150-year neighborhood. There’s also the aspect of another publicly-subsidized venue. How many does RIchmond need? What about private companies, such as the one that wants to put an outdoor concert venue on Mayo Island? Why can’t Venture RIchmond work with them instead of harming my neighborhood and the… Read more »

Matt Siegel
Matt Siegel
8 years ago

I don’t think the residents of Oregon Hill would have a problem with this new development if 1) proper procedure were being followed, and 2) the people in favor this development had to live anywher near it. Everyone who wants this development lives far away from the site and/or has a financial interest in it. I personally have no problem with concerts on the weekends. We already have those. I do have a problem with the city enforcing safety and zoning regulations on homeowners who want to do something that would ruin life for everyone in the entire city (like… Read more »

Mike jasp
Mike jasp
8 years ago

+1 Marcus Squires! Move to the suburbs if you want quiet. Move to the middle of the Fan or Museum district if you need some quiet but must remain in the City. Dont stay on the edge of the downtown riverfront. Choices people, choices you make. Marcus, you said something very relevant here – about many young people happy about this that dont speak up because they have more pressing things to do. Folks like Burger troll internet comment boards day in and day out lashing out against our City….its core residence …the employers and educators (“big corporations and VCU)… Read more »