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Neither city nor Elkhart businessman will say how amphitheater talks broke down

Elkhart officials present renderings for a proposed Elkhart amphitheater
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
Elkhart officials present renderings for a proposed Elkhart amphitheater in April at The Lerner Theater.

An Elkhart businessman has withdrawn his pledge to give the city $20 million to build an amphitheater downtown.

A group led by retired NIBCO chairman Rex Martin made the announcement in a press release Thursday. Martin said his family’s “willingness to help build a better city of Elkhart has been taken for granted. The city has tested our trust.”

It’s a sharp reversal from the excitement Martin and city officials voiced in April, when they announced plans to build an amphitheater on the city-owned Central Green downtown. It would seat nearly 8,000, becoming the state’s largest amphitheater, drawing national musical acts.

A city consultant has identified an amphitheater as a key part of the city’s Downtown Master Plan.

Martin had formed a nonprofit corporation, Elkhart AMP Group, to build and operate the amphitheater. His spokeswoman, Lori Harris, said they’ve already spent millions of dollars on architectural, consulting and surveying fees.

But Harris said Martin’s group and city have been unable to reach a development agreement.

"We've continued to concede with the city's requests, and then it seems like another roadblock is ... there's just been roadblock after roadblock," Harris said.

Harris declined to elaborate.

The city has pledged $35 to $40 million toward the public-private partnership. Mayor Rod Roberson declined our interview request.

In a written statement, the mayor called the news “unfortunate” and said the city has been “working tirelessly” to negotiate with Martin’s group. He said the city will continue pursuing an outdoor theater to complement the nearby Lerner Theater.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).