Seeing Stars is a Good Thing at New AMP Location

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When $4 million plans to renovate the Arkansas Music Pavilion fell through in January, Walton Arts Center officials had little time to salvage its outdoor concert season.

A little more than two months and about $50,000 later, though, WAC officials are all smiles. That’s largely because the AMP’s new home, the Washington County Fairgrounds in Fayetteville, has provided much of what they were looking for in the first place.

“I think the key thing we’ve been excited about is that the new site really creates much more of the atmosphere you would expect at an outdoor amphitheater,” WAC COO Terri Trotter said. “Sometimes, things just work out.”

The WAC purchased the AMP in February 2011, and began planning for the $4 million renovation that would’ve transformed the facility from a glorified tent erected on blacktop to a more traditional venue in a natural setting, complete with lawn-style seating, improved sightlines, landscaping and fencing. All of that would have been done on land adjacent to the Northwest Arkansas Mall rather than on its parking lot, where events had been held since 2005.

The agreement between the two entities had continued on a year-by-year basis until the WAC bought the AMP and sought to give it a more traditional appearance and feel, as well as a 15-year contract with mall ownership. Those talks stalled, however, when ownership changed and Birmingham, Ala.-based Bayer Properties LLC took over the mall’s management duties.

The change took place in August, and WAC officials had hoped to break ground on the new facility in October. Instead, no short- or long-term agreement was reached, and WAC officials began exploring other options.

After the late-January announcement of a one-year deal with the Washington County Fairgrounds, work there began immediately.

“We started the day after we signed the deal, and within a week, we were moving dirt,” WAC vice president of finance Tim Vogt said. “It was largely a concept in the mind rather than on paper.”

The biggest challenge, Vogt said, was getting down enough gravel to stabilize the new, larger stage now in place at the fairgrounds. A total of 400 dump-truck loads of gravel ultimately were used in site preparations.

Additionally, work was done to create better sightlines, a VIP parking area, and other cosmetic improvements. In doing that, WAC officials leaned on some area contractors, electrician Mark Richardson and Bob Kelly of Core Architects.

The result, in addition to the improved atmosphere, is a bigger backstage area, better access points for tour trucks and buses, and a larger footprint that includes plenty of green space. The $50,000 price tag that came with that work also included some repairs at the mall parking lot.

Through its first two shows as of press time, reaction to the new setup has been overwhelmingly positive. Public relations manager Beth Goodwin said patrons have said the new site is more comfortable, and they seem to spend more “hanging out” time at the venue, before and after shows.

“You can look up and see stars instead of looking up and seeing parking lot lights,” Vogt added.

Seven additional shows are booked, Goodwin said, and AMP officials hope to add eight to 10 more through the end of the summer season. Standard seating can accommodate about 3,500 people, but unlike the mall, setup the fairgrounds also provides an option to bring in a larger, portable stage and expand seating capacity to about 8,000.

WAC officials said they continue to explore other sites for a permanent home for the AMP, but have an option to renew the agreement with the Washington County Fairgrounds.