What’s next for Hamilton’s RiversEdge? Officials looking at upgrades at attract bigger acts

Flying Buffaloes (pictured) and Motherfolk performed at RiversEdge Amphitheater Thursday, August 6, 2020 with limited capacity to meet social distancing requirements. The RiversEdge concerts series is normally free but they have fenced off the area and attendees must now purchase tickets to reserve a square marked out on the grass designated as their seating area. The squares are spaced out around the venue with plenty of room to walk between them and stay distanced. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Flying Buffaloes (pictured) and Motherfolk performed at RiversEdge Amphitheater Thursday, August 6, 2020 with limited capacity to meet social distancing requirements. The RiversEdge concerts series is normally free but they have fenced off the area and attendees must now purchase tickets to reserve a square marked out on the grass designated as their seating area. The squares are spaced out around the venue with plenty of room to walk between them and stay distanced. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

If Hamilton wants to someday host the likes of Toby Keith, Walk the Moon, 21 Pilots or other high-profile bands, one way to spend some of the $33 million in federal pandemic assistance funds the city is receiving would be to upgrade its 10-year-old RiversEdge amphitheater, City Council was told last week.

The city’s summer concert series celebrated its 10th year of concerts this season, most of them free.

But if Hamilton wants to host higher-profile acts, it needs to upgrade the roof that overhangs the stage but provides such little shelter when it rains that performances have to be moved to beneath Hamilton’s nearby McDulin parking garage, Adam Helms, the city employee who runs the concerts, told officials.

Among the needs: A much larger roof, an improved sound system, more electricity for performers and an tall, attractive fence that would be needed during paid concerts, to keep people without tickets out of the concert area.

His presentation was made as council spends the next few weeks deciding how to spend the money. City staff have made enough suggestions to account for all the money, but council members have offered suggestions of their own, including street repairs. City officials also have said money is needed for such things as mental health and homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are hoping that money will come from Butler County’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

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“Toby Keith has asked to play in Hamilton, Ohio,” Helms told council. “Just this year I got asked to play by, I forget, it’s 21 Pilots or Walk the Moon — one of the two. And then Moe. These are all bands that want to come and play here. They know about us in Hamilton.”

But: “We can’t accommodate those bands because we don’t have electricity, a roof or a fence,” he said.

Caption
One possible use of the $33 million in ARPA funds Hamilton will receive is an upgraded RiversEdge amphitheater that could host more paid concerts, such as Toby Keith, Walk the Moon or 21 Pilots. PROVIDED

One possible use of the $33 million in ARPA funds Hamilton will receive is an upgraded RiversEdge amphitheater that could host more paid concerts, such as Toby Keith, Walk the Moon or 21 Pilots. PROVIDED
Caption
One possible use of the $33 million in ARPA funds Hamilton will receive is an upgraded RiversEdge amphitheater that could host more paid concerts, such as Toby Keith, Walk the Moon or 21 Pilots. PROVIDED

The amphitheater’s main sound system is a decade old, although there have been additions through the years. When the amphitheater hosts the Revivalists, a New Orleans-based band featuring Hamilton native David Shaw, it costs $10,000 to rent a sound system for that performance, Helms said.

When the Revivalists’ shows since 2015 have donated $30,000 to the city’s Independence Day fireworks.

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The summer concert series involves about 15 shows a year, most of them free. They slightly more than break even in a typical year, and payments to performers are financed by beer sales. The city pays no money for bands or beer there. About 25,000 attend the series each year, and the estimated economic impact is $1 million, Helms said.

Helms, who created his own rough image of what an enlarged roof for the amphitheater could look like, said without a roof to guarantee shows can happen in the amphitheater during rains, it’s too big a financial risk to book most paid acts.

Helms estimated it could cost $800,000 to build a better roof for the amphitheater. Upgraded sound systems could cost $500,000. The city also could use a new mobile stage, which could cost hundreds of thousands, to host smaller performances because the one it had was destroyed by vandals, he said. Helms said Jim Cohen, developer of the nearby Marcum project of apartments, restaurants and bars, has been pushing him to create a significant music festival with multiple stages at Marcum Park, and he has been working on that.

Helms said new outdoor concert venues in Cincinnati and Newport, Ky., have increased competition for bands.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get the Foo Fighters, like the Andrew Brady Icon Center (in Cincinnati) had for their first concert, but there are some names that would interchange with us in any of these places,” he said, showing a list of nine venues from Huber Heights to Lexington, Ky.

Without a roof, if a show couldn’t happen because of rain, the concert series would still have to pay the performers and refund the ticket holders, which would be devastating, he said.

Caption
RiversEdge Amphitheater is gearing up for a big season in 2021 as it celebrates 10 years of brining live music to the community.

RiversEdge Amphitheater is gearing up for a big season in 2021 as it celebrates 10 years of brining live music to the community.
Caption
RiversEdge Amphitheater is gearing up for a big season in 2021 as it celebrates 10 years of brining live music to the community.

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