BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Depending on who you ask, the proposed Waterville Landing amphitheater is either a boost to the economy or a detriment to society.
“I vehemently oppose this idea,” said Lyn Cox, a Fallen Timbers Fairways resident who said she relocated from California to be part of a “small, quaint town.”
Like many of the 26 residents who spoke during an August 15 Planning Commission meeting, Cox believes a concert venue doesn’t belong in Waterville. Most cited traffic, noise, crime and property values as main concerns.
Ben Bailey, a lifelong Waterville resident, said he believes the amphitheater is a great idea, if it is managed correctly.
“The idea that Waterville natives get to keep this same old, small-town feeling … is really out of touch with reality,” Bailey said. “It’s growing. The question is are we going to control and plan this growth or is it something that is going to control us? I believe this is something that still can be done but will take vision and leadership. This is the big leagues.”
Many of the 350 in attendance at Waterville Primary School for the meeting came to learn details about the project: a 7,500-seat amphitheater on South Pray Boulevard near the US 24/SR 64 interchange in the Waterville Landings development. The land is zoned C-4 and an amphitheater is allowed with a conditional use permit, explained Law Director Phil Dombey. Before ground can be broken, the applicant must meet a set of conditions, including professional studies on traffic, landscaping, lighting, public safety, noise and parking.
The applicants include Hunter Brucks, whose HB Management and HB Concerts has completed six concert venues throughout the United States and Canada. He teamed up with Waterville natives John Henry and Chris Campbell to work on the amphitheater plans.
In 2013, Campbell purchased 125 acres of commercially zoned property in Waterville Landings, with the goal of having more control over the development. Since then, he’s sold 11 acres at the northeast corner of Pray and SR 64 to Mercy Health, 25 acres on the southwest corner to Meijer, as well as parcels to Speedway and O’Reilly Auto Parts. Before Henry and Brucks approached him with the idea of an outdoor concert venue, Campbell said he was considering a cold-storage facility that would bring in semis 24 hours a day – something he didn’t think would fit.
“I would rather be part of putting something on the map in a good way,” Campbell said, adding that he would be interested in seeing hotels and restaurants on the surrounding land rather than truck stops and storage facilities.
The amphitheater would sit on two parcels: 26 acres on the west side of South Pray Boulevard and 13 acres next to O’Reilly. Corrinne Lochtefeld, a traffic engineer with DGL Consulting Engineers, gave a synopsis of a 120-page traffic study that’s posted on the city’s website and explained how traffic would be routed one way in and out of the site, directed to US 24 from SR 64. On Monday, she learned that Campbell has the option to purchase land to build a 1,100-foot extension of South Pray Boulevard to Neapolis-Waterville Road to the south. This would alleviate some of the expected half-hour wait to exit, and also provide more room for parking.
The amphitheater would host shows during the warmer months from Thursday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., with a variety of genres, including comedians, Disney shows, country, pop, rock, theater and Cirque du Soleil, Brucks said. A total of 130 to 150 people would be hired, including professional bartenders, private security and off-duty police officers to work the nights of the shows.
For residents of Mill Creek subdivision, noise is a primary concern. Lisa Lay said people with small children will take issue with the music and lyrics that might be coming from the amphitheater. Scott Kreinbrink, of Southridge Drive, works at the 180th Fighter Wing and compared the sound levels of the jets to a loud concert venue. Tom King, of Eastridge Drive, also questioned the decibel levels.
“I’ve seen this movie before,” said Don Myers, a Farmview Drive resident who once lived a mile away from the now-closed, 20,000-capacity Polaris Amphitheater in Columbus. “One mile away and my house shook. I’m not against this venue, but this is the wrong place.”
Jim Schlievert, a Whitehouse resident, has worked at concerts as a Toledo police officer.
“Noise enforcement doesn’t happen, whether it’s a concert or the drunk party next door,” he said, adding that – depending on the artist and alcohol consumption – he would expect disruptive behavior as well.
Overlook Drive resident Steven Timms said the city doesn’t own a decibel meter to measure sound and is ineffective at enforcing a sound ordinance. He threatened to put a referendum on the ballot if council approves the permit.
“We need to rely on the experts to walk through and address the issues,” said Village Parkway resident Jennifer Van Horn, who asked for details on how the Planning Commission and city council would monitor sound.
Christopher Carry, a professional engineer with Mosser Construction, said the preliminary drawings shared with the public don’t reflect the final product when it comes to sound buffering. An acoustical engineering firm has been hired to do a study and will work with the Edge Group landscape architects to lay out a plan for deadening the noise.
Seth Horton and Larry Hallet questioned the impact of the project on property values. Brucks cited two magazine articles showing an increase in value within a mile.
Rutledge Drive resident Dave Litzenberg asked about the economic benefits to the city. Dombey estimates about $500,000 a year would come into the city through income tax, property tax and an administrative tax on tickets that could cover the costs of safety services and roadway improvements.
For lifelong Waterville resident Isaiah Bayly, the amphitheater project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost the city’s economic development and support a growing community.
“The fact that people want to invest here is a testimony to how bright our future can be, but the city of Waterville needs to commit to a plan to turn the area surrounding the amphitheater into an entertainment district with restaurants and open green space for the community to enjoy year-round,” Bayly said. “Promoting development in this area will provide a unified approach rather than piecemeal development. The amphitheater could be one of the best things that ever happened to Waterville.”
James Zielinski said the project would be more likely to bring in chain restaurants and hotels that take away from locally owned businesses.
Yet John Henry, who owns Third Street Cigars and Third Street Cigar Records, said he agrees that the amphitheater will only provide more benefit to local businesses – one reason he wanted to bring the project to his hometown.
For Henry and his partners, the pushback on the project has been greater than expected.
After reading some of the emails and watching residents badger the applicants during the August 1 Planning Commission meeting, Police Chief Joe Valvano arranged for separate parking at the school for the applicants, engineers, architects and city officials to prevent tense confrontations. That seemed to work, he said.
The Planning Commission didn’t have an opportunity to discuss the project enough to take a vote, so no recommendation will be forwarded to council, administrator Jon Gochenour said. That means that the Monday, August 22 Waterville City Council meeting will not have the matter on the agenda. For now, the council meeting will be held in chambers, but it could be moved to the school if council decides that’s necessary.
The next Planning Commission meeting is tentatively set for Monday, September 12 at 6:00 p.m. at Waterville Primary School, with the regular council meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m. Updates to meeting times and locations will be made public at www.waterville.org.
Comments may still be submitted through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.