Thursday, March 07, 2013

ON THE AVENUES: Looking for Quality of Life bond issue bonuses? "Pick me," says orphaned Riverfront Amphitheater.

ON THE AVENUES: Looking for Quality of Life bond issue bonuses? "Pick me," says orphaned Riverfront Amphitheater.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Come to think of it, whatever happened with New Albany Venues, anyway?

You remember New Albany Venues, don’t you?

It’s the non-profit domestic corporation established back in 2010 to provide legal cover for the committee of usual suspects formed to operate New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater.

Then-mayor Doug England having decreed that entrance fees to the facility would not be charged, donations had to be solicited from corporate structures, so as to pay a weekly summertime succession of Jimmy Buffett cover bands, as usually backed by pre-teens riffing off the clock.

I searched for New Albany Venues at the Indiana Secretary of State’s on-line portal; lo and behold, it still is listed, with Michelle England identified as incorporator and president. I note this fact merely as a public service, seeing as New Albany Venues has failed to file its Business Entity Reports for two years running. It says so right there on the Internet.

Someone had best get on that, don’t you think?

After hurricane-force winds in 2008 shredded the canary-yellow fabric of the rotting Trinkle Dome, Mayor England went to work devising a plan to empty the coffers of the cowering Southern Indiana tourism board, one apparently suffering from a psychological condition similar to Stockholm Syndrome.

Clinking change promptly hit cold metal cups, and the result was a spanking new, blast-proof roof over the Riverfront Amphitheater’s stage, itself an expanse suitable to seat those many instrumentalists and singers required for a Mahler symphony, as well as their pup tents.

Delight was expressed, because after all, someone else’s money had been spent. Smiles were choreographed, victory was declared, ribbons were eviscerated, New Albany Events was chartered, self-congratulatory plaques were nailed into place, and then subsequent events held on the waterfront stubbornly reiterated the crucial point known by all and sundry even before the winds from the Gulf started blowing.

Namely: Glistening band shell or not, all remaining facilities at New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater remained completely outdated and inadequate.

Rather than rush to fix the ceiling, England’s team might have patiently commissioned a comprehensive overview to address the Amphitheater’s complete infrastructure needs, but it was not to be, because goldfish just don’t play banjos. Now the elephant’s a whiter shade of pale, just sitting there.

In 2012, the incoming Gahan administration planned (and correctly, in my view) its Live @ Five concert series as an urban vibe for city streets rather than using the Amphitheater, which was reserved for a bare handful of events last year, including a few movies and the Colts caravan. The city’s July 4th celebration on July 3rd and NABC’s 25th anniversary party arguably were the most prominent uses. For the most part, the Amphitheater waited to be mowed.

Granted, Riverfront Amphitheater issues are many. Its restrooms need upgrading. The reviewing stand atop the levee looks like a decaying relic from a 19th-century steel mill in the Soviet Union. The seats are not sheltered from the elements. Vendors must set up on the sod, and their water and electricity connections are minimal to non-existent. Lighting is poor. Permanent perimeter fencing is critical to stage ticketed events, and to regulate alcohol sales.

But in spite of it all, there have been times during the past three summer seasons when shows at the Amphitheater have been wonderful: Think Cabin and Wax Fang. It’s a gorgeous physical setting, and the possibilities are many. Unfortunately, money will be needed to address them, and this is where my personal frustration seeps into the equation.


Since England left office, New Albany has thrown (another) million into the Spring Street Hill roadway, and probably $1.5 million into the pocket-sized Bicentennial “Rent Boy” Park on the corner of Spring and Pearl. In 2013, the ante’s being upped still further.

Purely “fait accompli” meetings begin next week to “inform” (not ask) the public about an aquatics center and recreation enhancement creations, so-called “quality of life” improvements to be financed with an immense TIF-backed bond issue utterly without historical precedent in a city impoverished for so long that its amazing someone on the city council didn’t suggest printing CeeSaw’s bicentennial book on reusable toilet paper.

Now we’re even making the Spring Street/Checkpoint Charlie entrance to the city attractive, because we want incomers to have a good impression of our chaotic, unregulated street grid, and yet apart from the boarded-up windows on the buildings comprising “furniture corner,” what’s the very first thing people see when they’re traveling across the toll-free Sherman Minton Bridge?

They see the waterfront, the levee, and our neglected albatross of an Amphitheater – and when they see people congregating down there, even at a flawed New Albany venue, it says so much more positive about our city than when the crickets are chirping “A Shanty in Old Shanty Town” to a boogie-woogie beat.

Yes, I’ll readily concede that New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater is a hard beast to love. It was badly planned in the beginning, and poorly executed ever since. Capo Trinkle spend uncounted years vigilantly guarding against its use. The Corps of Engineers, the levee’s governing authority, is second only to the railroads in the sense of goose-stepping their way or the highway to Birdseye.

Of course, recent summers have been so hot that sometimes nothing can be done, short of installing Southeast Christian’s air conditioning system under the biggest circus tent you’ve ever seen.

However, spending a fair amount of time at the Riverfront Amphitheater these past few years, sweating off the pounds, slinging beers, and talking to folks who venture to the riverside for events … well, there’s legitimate cause for optimism. A future-oriented plan for the Amphitheater, as accompanied by leftover farthings from the Mega Bond Issue, would seem to fit perfectly within the Gahan administration’s park-reational and artistic orientation.

Wouldn’t it?

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