More live music and entertainment -- and the cash that follows them -- might be headed for downtown Rock Hill if an effort to renovate the city's amphitheater proves successful.
A major facelift is being considered to add seating to the outdoor venue, city officials said Tuesday. Some preliminary work already has begun. Proposals also are on the table to eventually add a stage and other amenities to the site.
The proposals and drawings from a Greenville architect were recently presented to economic development officials. The proposal includes:
• Adding risers to the terraced area of the amphitheater for additional seating capacity of up to 1,000.
• Removing planters and updating rails and lighting.
• Installing a permanent, covered stage.
A timeline and total cost estimates for the proposal were not available Tuesday.
'Sitting there ... underused'
The project is being touted as a way to attract more foot traffic to downtown, which would help generate new business. It also would be a boon to local arts, supporters say. Some of the possibilities include periodic concerts, a center stage for downtown festivals and other performing arts.
"You have an asset sitting there that is very much underused," City Councilwoman Kathy Pender said about the current venue. "It makes sense to me to take a look at what can be done to make the existing amphitheater more useful. It's a shame to have something like that now that really isn't very usable."
The amphitheater has seen little use in recent years. In 2005, a portable stage was erected for a concert welcoming Winthrop University students back to school. And the Come-See-Me festival has held several events in the plaza, despite the lack of seating.
But a look around the region shows downtown venues have the ability to host major events on a more frequent basis.
In nearby Spartanburg, a city similar in size to Rock Hill, Zimmerli Amphitheatre, with a stage, lights and seating for 1,200, was constructed in 1999 at a downtown park. Special events coordinator Darryl Goodwin said it now hosts 40 major events annually.
"We have everything under the sun in there," Goodwin said, noting popular acts such as "American Idol" contestants, the R&B group New Edition, singer Bobby Brown and city festivals have graced the stage. The venue also plays host to a handful of community festivals every year, including a patriotic festival sponsored by Spartanburg Community College and a gospel festival put on by area churches.
"When you look at community use, I'd say it's working out," he said.
Access, safety issues
Despite his positive review, Goodwin said logistics can present headaches. He said accommodating different performers, vendors and audiences, and keeping up with wear and tear are all things to consider. Spartanburg employs a special events department to manage the day-to-day operations, he said.
Pender also believes some issues, such as better lighting, railings and access points for ticketed events, will need to be addressed before the entire project gets under way.
"I think it's worth taking a look at. We're always looking at more ways to bring people downtown," she said, noting the warmer weather usually attracts more crowds. "That's become something people really enjoy in good weather, being able to gather outside for all sorts of concerts and performances."
Boon for business
If successful, the renovations have the potential to increase crowds at nearby bars and restaurants. That's good news for Samantha Koontz, general manager of McHale's Irish Pub, whose back door is directly across the street from the amphitheater.
"I'm originally from Nashville, and we had several places like that with music and performances. And people really liked it. It was a big hit," she said. "On the flip side, it's good for our business because it shows the efforts going towards the redevelopment of downtown."
Koontz said McHale's books live performers four nights a week to increase crowds. Those are the four busiest nights of the week.
"It brings people in," she said. "There's not much else to do in Rock Hill."