Thursday, July 25, 2024

New VIP area, rec space at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater garners mixed reactions amid approval 

Greenfield Lake Amphitheater may see $253,000 worth of expansions, adding a VIP area and outdoor space. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — One of Wilmington’s most intimate venues, in the midst of 100 acres of wildlife, will be on the receiving end of upgrades, leaving some locals questioning the need.

READ MORE: Live Nation and Ticketmaster lawsuit from DOJ calls for merger breakup  

Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is set to have an added VIP section and new food and beverage area to greet concert-goers potentially by next year. City staff and the Historic Preservation Commission support the expansion to add a combined 5,584 square feet to the venue. 

The VIP area will be 400-square-feet with flexible seating, so the amount of people allowed in the area will vary from show-to-show, according to city spokesperson Dylan Lee. The VIP deck will be located stage right in the amphitheater. 

The food and beverage area will be built adjacent to the restrooms and consist of 2,600 square feet of turf lawn, 500 square feet of gravel, and a 1,050-square-foot concrete pad. It will be used for food vendors, a bar, fire pit and corn hole.

Design plans for new food and beverage area. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)

Plans were brought forth by Live Nation, which manages GLA for the city. The City of Wilmington owns the amphitheater and receives $2 per ticket sold as part of its 10-year contract, signed October 2020. The city will only benefit monetarily from additional ticket sales; it does not receive funds from concessions. However, Live Nation pays the city $1,500 per show and $40,000 in rent annually, according to previous PCD reporting

The proposal had to go before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval. The HPC’s seven-member board, appointed by city council, approves changes to structures or areas that are in historic districts and considered a historical landmark, 50 years or older. Designated as one in April 2011, Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake was constructed 1962 — though the park was built in 1909.

On Thursday the HPC signed off on the proposed changes unanimously. Slated to cost $253,000, construction will involve moving existing Azalea Festival Queen plaques and replacing a chain-link fence with an 8-foot wooden fence along the perimeter of the food and beverage area. Live Nation also will remove an existing fountain. According to city staff, the fountain — installation date unknown — was not original to the park.

“I’m always happy to see chain-links bite the dust,” commissioner Stephen Sulkey said at the meeting. 

Port City Daily reached out to Live Nation’s Ryan Belcher for insight on the adjustments, but he did not answer questions by press. Staff presented the changes and commissioners didn’t have questions for Belcher.

While no one signed up to speak against the project during the public hearing portion of Thursday’s meeting, many people took to social media to voice disapproval. Some residents, such as Becky Lee, oppose the plans, citing concerns about it changing the GLA experience.

“It is such an intimate setting for a concert,” she told Port City Daily. “You feel a real connection to the artist performing there. I’d hate to see that change.”

Others have agreed its growth warrants updates. Mel Beasley, a Wilmington resident who frequently visits Greenfield Lake Park, supports the expansion. He said in an interview, the consistently sold-out shows and parking issues justify a need for more space.

“I think it definitely needs some expansion so that more people have the chance to attend the concerts there,” he told Port City Daily. 

However, Beasley expressed concerns about the project’s connection with Live Nation. He is worried the company will be the primary beneficiary of the upgrades and feels the city no longer supports local artists as it used to.

“Locals are clearly not part of the ‘anointed’ ones according to the city, who are allowed to actually entertain and profit from that entertainment in our town,” Beasley said. 

He referenced a recent StarNews report, also generating buzz, regarding local venue The Eagle’s Dare being fined by the city for putting on a free concerts series, due to permitting issues. 

Another Wilmington resident, Carrie Bennett, used to live in the homes next to Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and believes upgrades to the space should focus on parking.

“I don’t think they need to accommodate more people or vendors; there isn’t even enough room for the people they have now,” Bennett said.  

She noted during concerts it was nearly impossible to park at her own home or drive down Amphitheater Drive because cars were taking up both sides of the curved road.

Currently, the amphitheater is able to accommodate 1,300 fans. It does not have a designated parking lot but utilizes street parking and a grassy area alongside Lakeshore Drive. 

The last major renovations to the amphitheater were completed in 2008, funded by the city using money from the 2006 Parks and Greenspace Bond and the city’s Capital Improvements Program. $1.2 million was spent on the addition of a shell-style covered stage, dressing rooms, showers, a backstage area, a concession area, a ticket booth, and fenced perimeter.

In 2020, the city entered into its contract with Live Nation. As part of the agreement, Live Nation committed to making $500,000 in upgrades by the end of 2026. So far, they have made $265,000 by installing a cantilever system for speakers to enhance the sound quality within the amphitheater and reduce noise levels outside. 

According to city spokesperson Lee, the expansion plans are consistent with recommendations in the recently adopted Greenfield Lake Master plan.

Updated in February of this year, the plan indicates “bringing the venue up to today’s standards is suggested with amenities such a beer garden, outdoor dining areas with market lights, food truck area, and flexible seating options.”

The Greenfield Lake Master plan also includes advancing the 5-mile walking loop with mile markers, signage, and benches. In the next six to 10 years, it lists a focus on more special events, programs, and activities. Part of this includes managing water quality and natural resources at Greenfield Lake.

Expansions have to receive final written approval from the city manager, Tony Caudle. Construction is slated to start after the 2024 concert season.

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