LaGRANGE — The clinking of metal on metal resonated through the Sweetland Amphitheater construction site Thursday as workers hammered brackets into place to fasten stadium-style seats to concrete terraces.
With slightly more than a week before the site’s first public open house on Nov. 22, it’s crunch time.
Becca Eiland, the amphitheater’s director, is confident almost everything will be in place for the open house, and hopes the facility will be a boon for the city.
“I think what this community could stand more of are places for people and families to come together and kind of hang,” she said. “The square is good for that, but with the traffic and the fountain up there, I think this will be more of a protected area, sort of set off on its own.”
With seating for 2,200 people and a $250,000 budget to bring in acts for the first concert series next summer, she’s aiming high. She’s contracted with a production company from Atlanta to book the gigs and some major names are in the works, although she’s coy about exactly who they are.
“It’s a little like being asked to prom when you’re in high school,” she said. “We’ve asked a few people to go, but we’re still waiting to see.”
A decision on three of the first six acts is expected by Thanksgiving, she said.
Eiland wouldn’t go on record about who the acts they’re trying to book are, but suffice to say they’re nationally recognized names — the kind that might otherwise play at Atlanta’s Chastain Park amphitheater, or maybe even bigger venues. One is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and another act is a famous Motown staple.
Booking those kinds of big names won’t come cheap, though, and the ticket prices will reflect it.
Eiland estimated that tickets to some of the bigger-name concerts will run between $20 for lawn seats to upwards of $75 for close-up stadium seats. There will also be orchestra-pit seating where the amphitheater’s staff will set up round tables with seating for six and sell them as a package for about $600, Eiland said.
Still, she’s conscious that in a town where the average worker takes home about $28,000 yearly, there needs to be events that are affordable — if not free — for everyone.
“Affordability is huge and accessibility is important to me,” she said. “We’ve carved out a section of the budget that is going toward offering accessible programming. That might be a Pickin’ in the Park sort of thing on a Sunday or a Sessions at Sundown on a Thursday and it would be local artists and bands.”
She also wants to make sure it’s economical for local nonprofits and businesses to rent out the space for events.
As a baseline, nonprofits like the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts or the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra would be able to rent the amphitheater for about $1,300 per night on a weeknight. The price spikes a little on weekends, to a minimum of $1,500, and if the renter sells tickets, 7 percent goes toward the rental, not to exceed $4,000. She’s also got some wiggle room in her budget to help a limited number of nonprofits.
“Part of that is to cover the operation costs, the janitor fees and such,” she said. “We don’t really make a lot of money off of it, it just covers the utilities and cleaning fees. Someone has to come man it while you have people here and clean up after you’ve come and gone. With more people comes more mess and more clean up.”
Like any major entertainment event, if you don’ t want to pay for parking, you’ll have to walk. The new parking lot that sits west of the facility will be reserved for VIPs, Eiland said, and spaces will cost about $20 a pop. There’s other free parking about a 4-minute walk away, though, and the LaGrange High School facility parking lot on North Greenwood Street, which butts up to the amphitheater, will be available for patrons at no charge, Eiland said. There’s even a trail that leads from the faculty lot to the amphitheater. Eiland said she’ll also encourage people to park at the high school’s other lots and downtown.
“You’ll have 800 parking spots within a four-minute walk,” she said. “The government center parking deck will also be open for our shows. Part of the education that we’ll do is when people buy the ticket we’ll print out all this information.”
To help people save on the cost of tickets, outside food and beverages will be allowed at the facility. People will be able to bring coolers and their own snacks, although concessions will be available for purchase, Eiland added. Alcohol will be permitted at the amphitheater, as well.
Eiland said she’s currently shopping around for company to run the concession stand — she doesn’t want to get into the business of food service. She’s envisioning possibly a few vendors that would sell slices of pizza and other food, and she’d prefer it to be local businesses, she added.
Once the concerts are booked, tickets will be available for purchase online and at the box office before the shows. The stadium-style seating that lines the bowl-shaped amphitheater will be seat-specific. Patrons will receive a seat number on their ticket and those seats will vary in price based on how close they are to the stage; there are 943 stadium seats. The lawn seating allows for an addition 800 people, and those seats are a little farther back and will be sold as general admission, Eiland said.
Behind that, there’s a berm where tents will be set up and sold as package deals, similar to the orchestra-pit seating down below.
Eiland said she encourages the public to come see the amphitheater first hand on Nov. 22 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“I think people will really be impressed when they see it,” she said.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.