WILMINGTON –– If you’re planning on pulling up a lawn chair on the Wilmington Riverwalk later this month, as Widespread Panic rocks out the new Riverfront Park Amphitheater, don’t bet on it. You might get told to keep it moving.
While initially the city said it would welcome people to enjoy the shows from the Riverwalk, it is now looking at how to enforce safety and the flow of pedestrian traffic around the stage and in other critical exitways. It plans to re-evaluate after the first concert on July 16.
“There will be people that want to use the Riverwalk that have no interest in the concert, so we will be actively enforcing a clear space,” Amy Beatty, the city’s community services director and head of the park project, said on a phone call last week.
City of Wilmington leaders are cutting the ribbon to the downtown flagship park Friday afternoon; a public grand opening is planned Sunday. The urban green space is doubling as a 7,200-capacity Live Nation amphitheater. The entertainment management company is bringing in temporary seating, extra restrooms and fencing to transform the space from “park mode” to “concert mode” on nights when concerts are scheduled.
The new park stretches along the Riverwalk, providing an unobstructed view for non-ticket holders to catch a song or two. From some parts of the walkway, pedestrians can get a close-up view of performers, one that may arguably be better than parts of the general admission lawn.
The city intends to keep the Riverwalk open to the public during all shows, but said the area around the stage and the egress points will need to be kept clear.
The fire marshal’s office is mainly concerned with the portions enclosed by rails –– where there is water on both sides –– that are used as egress points for Riverfront Park.
The Wilmington Police Department considers crowding the boardwalk a violation of “impeding the sidewalk,” which is against the city ordinance, according to spokesperson Lt. Leslie Irving. The street and sidewalk ordinance asserts it as unlawful to obstruct traffic on a street, sidewalk or crossing of the city, or interfere with other people’s lawful use of those areas –– meaning people jamming on the Riverfront may clash with downtown joggers or dog-walkers.
The Riverwalk can sustain 100 pounds per square foot, not including the weight of the structure, according to the city. It spans 1.75 miles and is nearly 10,000 square feet.
Both Live Nation security and Wilmington police officers will patrol during concerts. According to the city’s contract with Live Nation, the company is in charge of the amphitheater site during shows. It will also deploy security officers to areas outside of the park to minimize impacts by patrons on nearby commercial properties, such as the PPD headquarters and Marina Grill, as well as surrounding apartment complexes.
Irving said WPD will deter people on the Riverwalk from gathering or blocking the way for those who are trying to enjoy an evening stroll or watch the sunset. The number of officers on the scene will depend on the type and size of audience the performer and genre attracts.
Irving said the consequence for impeding the Riverwalk depends on what the person in question is doing and will be left to the discretion of the officer.
“If they’re just standing there enjoying the sunset, we’re not going to make them move,” Irving said. “Because further up the boardwalk, we don’t make people move . . . So we also got to be consistent.”
Besides the Riverwalk, some boaters are making plans to skip the ticket and fees and listen to live music from the water. It’s common for local boaters to steer into the waterway on nights of firework events, and many are planning to do the same for shows booked at the downtown amphitheater. A city spokesperson said they are welcome to do so, and no agency is assigned to patrol the river during concerts.
However, in the instance of this Sunday, the city is sending out boat patrols to ensure safety during the Fourth of July celebration. The U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction of the river, and the police department operates a marine unit that assists when needed.
Earlier in the day, the public is invited to enjoy Riverfront Park for the first time during its grand opening. However the park will not have a good view of the firework show and is closing at 8 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to catch the display from other parts of downtown.
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