Elkhart officials unveil proposal to build 8,000-seat amphitheater
Transformative was the word Elkhart officials kept coming back to in describing a proposed amphitheater they hope to bring to the Central Green in downtown.
Downtown Elkhart is already home to The Lerner Theater, but the amphitheater would seat nearly 8,000, making it one of the largest in the state.
Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson said the proposed amphitheater will draw larger acts and will help piggyback off the 2008 renovation of the Lerner Theater to make downtown Elkhart the premier place in northern Indiana for live performances. City officials also anticipate the project will bring a marked increase in investment and tourism to the city’s core.
"We'll draw people here. Obviously we want people to come in and enjoy Elkhart but we also want the people that live here to feel as though this is an amenity for them as well,” Roberson said.
The project is being developed by the city, along with The Lerner Theater and the entertainment promotions group Mammoth. Officials say the theater could be completed sometime in 2025, though they did not have a cost estimate. Like the renovation of the Lerner and the Elkhart Aquatic Center, the project will be paid for through a combination of public and private funds.
Once the amphitheater is completed, Michelle Frank, executive director of the Lerner, said acts like the Foo Fighters, The Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire would be representative of the caliber of artist Elkhart could draw.
“The impact of the amphitheater will bring entertainment that isn’t seen at all north of Indianapolis all the way up to Grand Rapids,” said Frank.
In fact, one popular artist even helped inspire the amphitheater. Roberson told reporters this week that Weird Al Yankovic sold out the Lerner last summer and wrote to theater staff about how much he enjoyed the central green in downtown.
One of Weird Al’s promoters with Mammoth has even been working with Elkhart to nail down the amphitheater’s design, though exact schematics haven’t been finalized yet.
Officials introduced the proposal for public feedback for the first time Tuesday evening and held a second meeting Wednesday morning. Some residents who attended the unveiling were excited about the possibility of more people coming to the city.
“When the construction comes in, that also means profit is coming in too when it's all done. So, it's good for the whole city,” said Rico Williams, who lives in Elkhart and attended Tuesday’s meeting with his family.
City planners also emphasized that construction on the amphitheater will likely include renovations to nearby streets like 2nd and 3rd streets and could see Main Street north of Central Green turned into a pedestrian-only pathway.
Frank added the amphitheater project would actually add green space compared to the current park and the theater would feature free and family programming beyond big-name musical acts.
"It's truly special when community leaders and visionaries come together with one goal in mind: To bring a quality of place and quality of life so that generations to come will be proud to make Elkhart their home," she said Tuesday.