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.
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.