Hey Raleigh, Design a Real Amphitheater.

September, 28, 2011, by Mark

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Good design is part of what makes cities culturally relevant. Raleigh's Downtown amphitheater is a placeholder until a longer-term solution can be planned and built. The interim solution is as functional as it is ugly, but what should we expect for the future? 

What's wrong with the one we have?
For starters, the one we have doesn't work. This temporary kit design is a short-sighted attempt by the city to generate quick cash, not to contribute in creating a meaningful place; but that's OK, it's meant to be temporary. Serious projects take years to build (the Raleigh Convention Center took nearly a decade from planning to execution) and Raleigh needs years to build one, due to an obvious lack of excess funding in the capital budget. Here's the important part: by the time the money and initiative exists to build a real amphitheater, you can't just yank a design out of your ass and expect the project to be comprehensively successful. This kind of comprehensive success will be the only way for Raleigh to stay on top of the charts, and many questions need to be answered before building the real Raleigh Amphitheater.

Where are we going to put it?
A feasibility study will answer this question. Issue an RFQ, conduct a bid process and hire a professional architecture/planning/research firm to explore site choices. How about Nash Square? This is not to say the current location isn't the right one, but part of the design process is to exhaust other possible options. 

Who's going to pay for it?
"This is not our problem. We just want to go to shows and spend $100 per pair of tickets and another $30 on drinks, eat at local restaurants and stay at hotels." In other words, it doesn't matter because people will come here to spend money. (Unless the city makes the boneheaded move of building it halfway to the moon a la Carolina Hurricanes' RBC Center.) It sounds like a good investment for the city, or a strong potential public/private partnership opportunity. Propose a bond, issue a TIF or partner with investors.

Case Study: Koka Booth Amphitheater
Architect: Epstein Joslin Architects, Inc.
Photo: © Roberty Benson and Michael Zirkel

Set in a pine-needle blanketed grove in Cary on Symphony Lake, Koka Booth houses the North Carolina Symphony, the Triangle Opera and the Carolina Ballet Company for their summer performances. This brilliantly lit stage was designed by Epstein Joslin Architects out of Cambridge. Capacity is ten seven thousand, and the complex includes dining, concessions arcade and covered seating in addition to a spacious lawn.

Case Study: Fayetteville Festival Park Performance Pavilion
Architect: Pearce, Brinkley, Cease + Lee of Downtown Raleigh
Photo: © James West

This Pavilion resulted from a master plan & needs assessment study for Fayetteville's performing arts community. Owned by the city, it is the centerpiece of a larger Festival Park, near downtown. This project has won multiple state and local design awards for its architectural design and sensitive environmental and site planning.


Read More

Architecture, Other posts by Mark.


Downtown RaleighDesignDevelopmentPoliticsRaleigh Amphitheater


  • SE Raleigh
    09/28 09:19 AM

    I see you opted not to mention the ‘other’ amphitheater in Raleigh. Life does exist outside of downtown and the belt line and Time Warner Cable Pavilion is an excellent facility with a great history.

    Maybe TWC Pavilion isn’t the first choice for Raleigh’s new young urban elite but it is a permanent amphitheater owned by the city. Why should we build another one when we have a perfectly good location with plenty of parking?

  • tanda
    09/28 09:31 AM

    I agree with SE Raleigh’s statement that we already have a very nice amphitheater in Raleigh… I really miss the Moore’s Square summer events/concerts and wish that the city (or whomever was responsible for those events) would bring those back.  I personally feel like the open concept concerts in the park were much more indicative of the hip, urban vibe downtown seems to be going for than going to a traditional amphitheater and sitting through a music event.  Instead of spending money on another amphitheater the city could invest funds into continued revitalization efforts.

  • katherine
    09/28 09:35 AM

    Charlottesville’s nTelos Pavilion is a great case study to consider, too. Awesome facility, perfect location.

  • Barney
    09/28 09:45 AM

    So because the cheap stage allowed too much water to ruin the Fleet Foxes show, the City should build a brand new amphitheatre in a different location?  Huh?

    The downtown amphitheatre is in a great location.  The setting is attractive.  The sound is good (much better than Cary), without being too disruptive to nearby residents (some complaints, but not many).  Parking is plentiful.  They’ve been able to book some great acts.

    Literally the only problem is that downtown Raleigh began experiencing flash-flood conditions at the exact same moment that Fleet Foxes went on stage.  The stage design was simply not able to handle that volume of rain.  It sucked and the City should definitely take steps to see that bands can play through inclement weather.  But moving the venue?  Totally unneccessary.  I have no idea what you were thinking when you wrote this.

  • Mike
    09/28 09:51 AM

    The current amphitheater is in a great location. I noticed during the Widespread Panic shows that subwoofers had been rainproofed with large tarps. Thats just a temporary fix but if they can permanently fix the rain problem, why move?

  • Robh
    09/28 10:04 AM

    A downtown amphitheatre (a permanant one) would continue to reinforce the existing efforts to revitalize raleigh’s downtown.  Downtown concert goers provide support for many local restaurants and business in the heart of Raleigh - something that the satellite campus of the TWC pavilion cannot do. Again, a feasibility study would be necessary to confirm this, but “spending money on another amphiteatre” could be a valuable part of the “continued revitalization efforts” (thank you tanda)

  • hackles10
    09/28 10:12 AM

    Its also important to consider the types of show this venue can attract.  Can Wilco and the Decemberists, and Chelsea Handler sell out a 19k venue/festival site?  Probably not.  This venue is more intimate, and offers concert goers a fantastic downtown experience with regard to pre and post show restaurants/bars/entertainment that TWC could never offer.

  • SE Raleigh
    09/28 11:15 AM

    Maybe instead of focusing all the money and effort on downtown you could look at allowing businesses and bars to open up closer to TWC Pavilion and support SE Raleigh.

    I know the urban elitists don’t want to admit the city has a responsibility for anything outside of downtown but there is life out here. Your dollars supporting businesses outside of downtown still support Raleigh and could help areas in much more need than downtown.

  • ben_mackie
    09/28 11:33 AM

    Hey SE Raleigh, not everyone is into Rascal Flatts, Rhianna and Kenny Chesney.  And get this…they have even smaller concerts at the Museum of Art amphitheater.  There are bands of different sizes and popularity out there in the world, believe it or not.  Just an FYI.

  • PrezBO
    09/28 11:38 AM

    Ben_Mackie —GREAT response to SE Raleigh.  I couldn’t agree more!

    Opening bars closer to TWC?  Is that a joke?  It’s clearly located on the West side of Raleigh.  Even for those of us that DON’T live inside the belt-line, would rather go down-town than to TWC. 

  • PrezBO
    09/28 11:39 AM

    Correction:  EAST-side of Raleigh….

  • ben_mackie
    09/28 11:41 AM

    SE Raleigh, why don’t we just have McDonald’s restaurants only.  I mean, all food is the same, right?

  • scoop
    09/28 11:59 AM

    preach, ben_mackie, preach!

  • AndyO
    09/28 12:50 PM

    Great article - great examples too.

  • 7 Lair
    09/28 01:22 PM

    Nothing irks people and stifles development efforts more than a non-constructive article like this.  Its hard to tell from the whining if you even knew TWC existed or if you even truly understand the intent with this land and the intent of this amphitheater.  The case study started long before you posted your inaccurate assessment of how a feasibility study works.  I have enjoyed several shows at the amphitheater and I think it is paving the way for a permanent urban amphitheater that will compliment the existing TWC amphitheater.  Creating a great downtown is marathon, not a sprint.

    09/28 01:30 PM

    FYI, Kane is building another small scale amphitheater at North Hills that will be about the same size.  Should be nice and not cost the taxpayers a dime.  Hopefully their booking will be decent without live nation getting in the way.  They already draw huge crowds for their beach music series.  The downtown amphitheater has been nice but it would be much better without live nation involved and choking out other promoters.  TWC is dying a slow death due to being overpriced and in a bad location.  Also, there are few big bands to fill it anymore.  I think they have cut the number of summer concerts by 1/3 from its peak, if not more.

  • stage
    09/28 01:34 PM

    The current location of the Downtown amphitheater is perfect. Plenty of parking, walking distance to restaurants, bars and other places of interest. The property is already owned by the City which is a large factor. Property in the downtown area is not cheap in any acreage and a site large enough for a amphitheater would cost as much or more as the construction of said venue.
    The powers that be should take care to ensure that what ever design they chose should be as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing. Koka Both was not designed to hold large amplified acts and therefore production of any act with anything more than a simple sound and lighting setup is problematic at best.
    Fiscal responsibility has to be taken into consideration as well. I’d love to have a new entertainment system at the house but in light of today’s economy I think I will stick with my current set up. The fact of the matter is that the whole entertainment industry is in a slump. Ticket sales are down across the board. Without people to fill the seats the whole idea is going to cost “us”.

  • DPK
    09/28 01:40 PM

    Well said 7 Lair.

  • Dan Schram
    09/28 01:44 PM

    Where were YOU ALL AT last summer with these concerns? I realize Gov’t Mule isn’t the type of show you all would typically cover (despite the high quality of music), but that was a pretty disastrous show for the amphitheater that had zero coverage from New Raleigh. People fighting each other to get under the deck below the bathroom trailers was pretty much rock bottom as far as i’ve seen people act at a concert. No one going to the show realized there was zero rain cover until well…it started raining. And lets not forget the lovely dirt pile behind the stage…

  • Ken Pinkerston
    09/28 01:54 PM

    It’s an outdoor venue. If it rains, so what? Suck it up and quit whining. You should have checked the weather before you went out.

  • grayson currin
    09/28 03:01 PM

    7 Lair is exactly right. This article is not only irresponsible and completely inaccurate (capacity at Koka Booth, for instance, is 7,000 (see google.com) and Nash Square could never fit the sort of amphitheater you’re asking for (see a map)), but it also makes NewRaleigh look like a stupid bunch of kids who actually have no idea how anything works in any city. The current facility is by no mean’s perfect, but neither was or is Koka Booth. But improvements can be made. Really bummed this thing was published; do some research, bro.

  • bleep blorp
    09/28 04:10 PM


  • Funny Joke
    09/28 05:01 PM

    This article seems like one of the jokes NewRaleigh writes on April Fools.

  • Phillo
    09/28 08:09 PM

    Since we are piling on this poorly researched article, as much as it sucks, the RBC was built in that location because it’s not the Hurricanes’ arena, it’s the Wolfpack/Hurricanes’arena and was built on NCSU land - land NCSU already owned - so there was no price point on land in downtown that would make everyone fiscally happy.

  • kg
    09/28 08:37 PM

    i’ve been looking for a reason to cut down all the trees in nash squre.  right on.

  • ncmyk
    09/28 09:16 PM

    again to pile on the need for better research…nash square is owned by the state of north carolina, not raleigh.  didn’t we just have a grand competition in raleigh to re-design moore square?  and what did we learn?  if you have a competition to re-design a city park on land owned by the state then you better involve the state!  all those fancy toilet buildings designed for moore square were nixed because the owner of the property doesn’t want buildings on their property, no matter what the city and the competition decided.

    so, take your amphiteater at nash square idea and put it on the same dusty shelf as “lets have a minor league baseball stadium in downtown raleigh” until you figure out why things ain’t gonna happen.

  • 7 Lair
    09/28 09:40 PM

    Mark(author of the post), Please do not misunderstand the criticism.  The NewRaleigh voice is loud, the following is large, and while traditional journalism rules do not apply, loyal readers like myself want to feel you are using your power responsibly to better our city. You are free to express your opinions however you wish, but it would be much more fun if you would tickle our arm-chair-city-planner bones   “The year is 2020, the RCC is expanding, the Red Hat Amphitheater journey is coming to an end and the new Dix Park Amphitheater will come to reality.  Here is a short wish list from the 600k residents of our city:”

  • KellyMcB
    09/28 09:51 PM

    I have no complaints with the two concerts I’ve been to downtown. Great location, good sound, well-managed facilty. Can’t say the same at all about Koka Booth. Mediocre sound, terrible the way they’ve retrofitted the flat ground up front for crammed in reserved seating, absolutely miserably managed facilty, huge lines for the concessions and restrooms (which are impossible to get to, due to no travel corridors at all), utterly ineffective security. I’ll take downtown over Koka Booth any day—better yet the NC Museum of Art!

  • Doug A.
    09/29 08:08 AM

    Agree with KellyMcB.  Koka Booth is great for poorly attended or less crowded shows (the Symphony, Shakespeare) but not so great for crowded shows (Death Cab, Sheryl Crow). I’m just referring to the crowding and parking.  I thought the sound was good for Death Cab.

  • frank
    09/29 10:23 AM

    DPAC brings in acts that Live Nation/Clear Channel/SFX has denied Raleigh over the last decade.

    Walnut Creek is a dump. The parking lot is eroding like a model for the grand canyon. The painted grass stains your pants if you make the mistake of sitting on it a week after rainfall. And Clear Channel over the years has cut back on bookings to a rate where you forget it exists.

  • Jason
    09/29 11:49 AM

    I am so sick of whining articles.  Be happy for what Raleigh has now, and that is one of the best music scenes around.  You sound like an annoying hipster - you know the ones that think they are so cool and open-minded that they actually become what they detest . . .  a close-minded brat that thinks everything should be catered to their tastes.

  • Keeping You Connected!
    09/29 03:39 PM

    Jason has HAD IT UP TO HERE with all of this nonsense, it sounds like.

  • frank
    09/29 03:47 PM

    for the price of concert tickets around here (especially after all the bonus fees), it’d be nice to be catered to our tastes. I’m not going to pay $125 to see a Journey coverband featuring an original member or two.

  • Please fix the blown speaker.
    09/29 03:48 PM

    I don’t see anything wrong with an article wishing for improvements to a mediocre at best Amphitheater. Those saying the sound is decent were obviously not at the Wilco show this week.

  • Klausie's Band Truck
    10/02 11:14 PM

    Raleigh needs concert trucks.  They can pull up in front of downtown clubs and put on shows of all types for much less.  Let’s beat Durham to the punch on this one.  Sure, they might spend most of their time in Garner hauling guys with big hats and shiny belt buckles around, but whenever King’s or Lincoln had a good show, they could come park out front and undercut them on price.  They could also get a Ford Ranger or something to carry around solo acoustic artists to park in front of coffee shops.

  • L B
    10/04 09:28 AM

    Downtown amphitheater is great. I’ve seen five shows here from all different vantage points and have never been disappointed. I was not at the Wilco show, however.

  • Fred
    10/11 06:07 PM

    You’re an idiot. Koka Booth has the worst sound/sound ordinances that I’ve ever experienced in my 27 years of concert-going.

  • Larissa
    02/09 06:59 AM

    I will right away grab your rss feed as I can’t find your email supcsribtion link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me know so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

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