On October 1st, the Johnston County Visitor’s Bureau (JCVB) and the Smithfield Parks and Recreation Department submitted plans to the Smithfield Town Council for a new Neuse River Amphitheatre that would cost nearly $1 million.
In a report from JCVB President / CEO Donna Bailey-Taylor and Parks & Recreation Director Gary Johnson, they said the current Amphitheatre on the banks of the Neuse River in Downtown Smithfield is old and outdated. The structure, built in 1987, is not handicapped accessible, stays wet and is difficult to maintain because of ongoing drainage issues. The structure has been flooded several times in recent years and has damage to the stage floor, roof, and electrical components.
Bailey-Taylor and Johnson presented plans for a proposed new $980,923 amphitheater to take its place in the exact same location. The new design would include outdoor seating for 500 people. They requested the Council approve a $5,200 environmental study, a requirement before a USDA loan application can be submitted. Bailey-Taylor said the JCVB would pay for the study.
“I struggle with spending $981,000,” said Mayor Pro Tem Travis Scott. “It’s going to be flooded. It’s already been flooded a lot.”
Councilman Emery Ashley agreed saying the amphitheater has probably been flooded 10 times in the last 5 years. “Flooding is going to affect the ability to use it. You couldn’t build a house there.”
Mayor Pro Tem Scott asked if the JCVB or Parks & Rec Department had looked at other sites including nearby land owned by the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation. They admitted that other sites had not been explored.
“It’s a great idea but the wrong location,” Mayor Pro Tem Scott added. “If we’re going to invest this money we need to have it in an area that’s substantially safe and this isn’t substantially safe.”
Bailey-Taylor said the amphitheater is supported in its current location by the JCVB as a place to hold outdoor concerts for residents and visitors to Smithfield and Johnston County. “It would be a showpiece for the Town of Smithfield.”
Mayor Andy Moore said he was unsure if building a new amphitheater on the same spot – a location that is prone to flooding – was a good idea. Moore expressed concerns about the lack of parking. “Does it make sense to build a structure there?” The Mayor said he needed more information before making a decision on the location.
Councilman John Dunn said there is not adequate parking for 500 people. He said a civic center was something that could be used year-round while the amphitheater can only be used a few months each year and is dependent on the weather.
Scott said “water and electricity don’t mix” and wanted Bailey-Taylor and Johnson to explore other more suitable locations before a final decision on a new amphitheater was made.
No action was taken by the Council pending a new report on possible alternate sites.
The JCVB has recommended the Town pay for a new amphitheater with funds from a 2 percent motel occupancy tax from a new Hampton Inn being constructed on E. Market Street at I-95 in Smithfield and opening in 2020. The hotel will generate approximately $60,000 annually in occupancy taxes that could fund the loan payment for a new amphitheater, once stakeholders agree on a suitable location.