Lynchburg city staff, contractors confident in plan to build amphitheater on floodplain (2024)

Work continues on Riverfront Park’s amphitheater and though it’s being constructed on a floodplain, city staff and contractors have more than prepared for the project as it has been in the works for 20 years.

The planned Riverfront Park development encompasses an outdoor amphitheater, a permanent restroom facility and enhanced landscaping with shade canopies. A new fence and gate system will regulate access to the field space between the James River and Jefferson Street during events, allowing for daytime recreational use.

Lynchburg city staff, contractors confident in plan to build amphitheater on floodplain (1)

Ground broke on the project in April, with the city aiming for completion by late spring 2026 and performances slated to commence shortly thereafter at the amphitheater.

During a May 28 Lynchburg City Council meeting, Mayor Stephanie Reed said that the way the amphitheater has been portrayed by members of council has made it seem like it’s going to be a horrible thing for the city.

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“Even though we’ve already broken ground on it, we can’t go backwards now. And to continuously bring up something that has already passed, already broken ground and make it seem like it’s something terrible for our city is unfair to those who want to celebrate it.”

In December, Lynchburg’s Riverfront Park amphitheater project received approval following extensive deliberation by city council, culminating in a 5-2 vote to allocate an additional $3 million from surplus funds toward construction.

Ward III Councilmember Jeff Helgeson, a critic of the amphitheater proposal, was joined by At-Large Councilor Martin Misjuns in voting against the appropriation. Helgeson has expressed concern over the project’s escalating cost, noting it had risen from $4.5 million to about $8 million within a year.

At a previous meeting on Nov. 28, city staff requested the additional funding, citing general construction inflation, drawing from a $15 million surplus from fiscal year 2023.

Originally budgeted at around $4.6 million in July 2022, the project initially received $4 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Clay Simmons, deputy director of Public Works, said Wednesday that the concept of a music and entertainment space in Riverfront Park has been part of various master plans for more than two decades.

Public input has been pivotal throughout the planning stages, with community preferences guiding the development proposals over the years.

“We’ve had multiple master planning efforts where the public voiced their desire for such a venue,” Simmons said. “This is a culmination of community feedback through different plan iterations.”

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He said that extensive considerations have been taken to minimize risks associated with potential flooding. He described thorough floodplain studies conducted by specialized consultants, including pre-development and post-design flood modeling to ensure minimal impact.

“The key principle we’ve adhered to is ‘no net rise’ in flood elevation,” Simmons said. “This means that even with structures in place, flood levels should remain largely unaffected.”

Infrastructure such as electrical systems and audio-visual equipment are elevated above potential flood levels. The stage itself is designed to allow water to flow over and through it, minimizing damage during flooding events.

“While some facilities like restrooms couldn’t be elevated, we’ve used flood-resistant materials and design techniques to mitigate damage,” Simmons said. “Everything’s concrete, brick and steel.”

He said that building in flood-prone areas is a common practice in the city, citing various parks, businesses and residential areas already situated in floodplains and while challenges exist, they are managed with careful consideration and adherence to safety standards.

Construction will be completed in phases so disruptions to park activities are minimized. Movies in the Park is being held through the rest of the summer.

Doug Harvey, a veteran historic preservationist with extensive experience in city planning and museum development, has been involved in numerous projects, including those in floodplains.

Harvey said meticulous planning and flood mitigation efforts have been undertaken for this new development.

With a background rooted in historic preservation with work in Manassas, Richmond and with various museum projects, Harvey said he has experience in planning and dealing with flood-prone areas.

Lynchburg city staff, contractors confident in plan to build amphitheater on floodplain (3)

He said the project has been designed to withstand potential flooding, with utilities raised above flood levels.

“The Riverfront Park, where the amphitheater is being constructed, was an unfinished space,” Harvey said. “This new development elevates its quality significantly. Portable stages and temporary facilities do not enhance downtown areas, but a well-planned amphitheater with proper infrastructure will.”

The amphitheater’s design includes features to mitigate flood damage, such as easily cleanable bathrooms designed to withstand flooding and quick cleanup processes. Harvey said similar projects have been successfully built across the country.

The creation of Riverfront Park was one of the key components of the 2000 Downtown and Riverfront Master Plan, Anna Bentson, director of communications and public engagement, said.

Improvements were also outlined in the 2006 Lynchburg Riverfront Implementation Plan and again in the 2040 Downtown Master Plan. Through planning efforts, residents have prioritized the development of the park into a key outdoor, civic location to serve a multitude of recreational, cultural and environmental needs, she said.

Consumer spending on experiences such as events and festivals is the most efficient way to generate local tax revenue, both in direct spending on ticket sales but also indirectly to generate meals, sales and lodging revenue, she said.

According to the 2022 Economic Impact of Visitors in Virginia by Tourism Economics produced by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, spending by visitors to Lynchburg saved each city household about $880 in annual state and local tax collections.

Rachael Smith, (434) 385-5482

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Lynchburg city staff, contractors confident in plan to build amphitheater on floodplain (2024)
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