The centuries-old stonework at Historic Tredegar could soon form the framework for Richmond’s version of Red Rocks.
Plans are in motion for a 7,500-capacity amphitheater on the hillside behind the Tredegar Iron Works complex on the downtown riverfront.
The outdoor venue, which would host concerts as well as community events, would be fitted between Tredegar and the filled-in portion of the Kanawha Canal, which follows a curve in the hillside that forms an amphitheater-shaped footprint.
Behind the proposal is a group led by Coran Capshaw, a music industry executive and Virginia native who’s involved in the ownership or management of similar venues across the country and got his start managing the Dave Mathews Band, a role he continues today.
Capshaw led the development of the Charlottesville Pavilion, the 3,500-seat amphitheater on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall that was renamed Ting Pavilion last year. His Red Light Management group, headquartered in Charlottesville, also co-manages the 6,800-capacity Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, Tennessee.
Capshaw’s Red Light Ventures would lease around 4 acres of the Tredegar parcel from owner NewMarket Corp., which is headquartered atop the adjacent Gambles Hill property. NewMarket would retain ownership of the site through a long-term lease with Red Light, which would be responsible for funding and developing the amphitheater project.
Bruce Hazelgrove, NewMarket’s chief administrative officer, described the project as in keeping with the company’s long-term vision for its hillside campus, which has attracted development interest over the years.
“The company has been on portions of this site for 135 years, and we’ve been committed to making it a safe, beautiful, vibrant riverfront for all of these years,” Hazelgrove said, listing efforts such as its restoration of Tredegar and development of the nearby Foundry Park site, where CoStar Group is now based and is planning a new high-rise.
“All of these things add up, and this project is just one more step in fulfilling our vision for the riverfront,” Hazelgrove said. “It’s going to be an amazing asset for the community, and I believe it will be one of the coolest venues in this entire region if we can pull it off.”
The project has been five years in the making. Hazelgrove said discussions with the group came about as it was searching for suitable sites across Richmond. Sites considered included Brown’s Island, which was deemed to be too narrow, and the nearby Tredegar Green hillside site, which hosts a stage for the annual Richmond Folk Festival and once was floated for a smaller amphitheater project.
“They preferred to be downtown and they were looking at a site not downtown,” Hazelgrove said. “I asked them, ‘If y’all want to be down here on the river, why aren’t you looking on the river?’ One thing led to another, and we landed where we are.”
The venue, referred to as the Richmond Amphitheater, would consist of a covered main stage framed against Tredegar, with three sections of fixed seating, pit seating and a lawn providing a total capacity of 7,500. Group representatives compared the venue in size to Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater and the Live Oak Bank Pavilion in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The representatives, who asked not to be named in this story, would not provide a cost estimate for the project but said the amphitheater would be similar in scale to Wilmington’s Live Oak Bank Pavilion, which opened last year and cost upwards of $30 million.
Tredegar’s existing Company Store building, a one-story structure closer to Fifth Street, would be used as the venue’s box office, and the towpath beside the filled-in canal would be turned into a walkway with entrances off Fifth and Brown’s Island Way. Existing parking is expected to accommodate the venue.
The venue would also showcase the site’s historic features, including stonework along the canal and other ruins on the site that would be preserved, said Jay Hugo, whose 3North design firm is the architect on the project. 3North was also involved with the Tredegar restoration that created the American Civil War Museum and offices where the firm was once based.
“Not only is it on the riverfront, but it has some of the most dramatic views of the city skyline,” Hugo said of the site. “We really want to capitalize on that and knit it into its setting.”
Hugo added, “It’s going to be a modern building that really does celebrate the energy and the momentum of the city, but it’s also going to be knitted into this historic context. So, it’s going to be sympathetic to all these existing structures and very thoughtful about how it integrates with the site.”
The group is aiming to open the venue by May of 2024, a timeframe that they said would require construction to start by Thanksgiving this year. The site is zoned DCC Downtown Civic and Cultural District, which the city code describes as intended for large spaces or buildings meant for public assembly.
The group said the project would not require rezoning or special-use approvals from the city, though it would still require building permits and other reviews that have gained a reputation for slow turnaround times in Richmond.
The representatives and Hazelgrove stressed that they would need the city’s support to meet their 2024 goal. The group said they met with city officials last week for a pre-application meeting to present the project.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of support from the city,” Hazelgrove said. “Absent their support, I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to pull it off in 2024.”
The group said it has also presented the project to Venture Richmond, which puts on the folk festival, Friday Cheers and other events around the site.
The representatives said Venture Richmond is supportive of the amphitheater. Venture Richmond CEO Lisa Sims could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The group said the amphitheater is intended to be used by the folk festival and other community events. They said it could also serve as a type of town square and would have flexibility to host 10,000 people or more. The site would also provide room for potential expansion.
The group expects to host 25-35 concerts per year. Concerts would be put on by Starr Hill Presents, Red Light’s promotional arm. Red Light Management is a primary owner of Starr Hill Brewery, which has an outpost in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood.
Naming rights would be an option for the venue. The group expects to enlist contractor Martin Horn, a Charlottesville-based firm that built the amphitheater there.
The group plans to launch a website with more information about the project in the coming days.
With a capacity for 7,500, the group said the amphitheater would meet demand from musical acts that currently pass over Richmond for other venues in Charlottesville, Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia.
Richmond’s Altria Theater seats 3,500, while The National’s capacity is 1,500. The Richmond Coliseum, which used to host larger acts, is shuttered and in line for demolition.
The amphitheater would be the second to be built on the hillside beside the Lee Bridge. Uphill and across Second Street, the Virginia War Memorial added a small amphitheater as part of a $26 million expansion completed in 2020. The Red Light group said their venue would not obstruct that amphitheater’s views.