Big top Coran: Councilors vote yes on Capshaw pavilion

Charlottesville officials are thrilled to have nailed down a deal to have Dave Matthews Band manager Coran Capshaw run the downtown amphitheater, a venture they estimate will generate about $5 million annually in ticket sales and concessions, and put between $150,000 and $200,000 in city coffers from parking revenues, sales and meals taxes.

City Council approved a deal June 7 between the Charlottesville's Industrial Development Authority– CIDA– and a company controlled by Capshaw called Charlottesville Pavilion LLC. According to the agreement, CIDA will lend the promoter and real estate magnate $2.4 million to construct a new, canvas-covered facility, and will make an additional "contribution" of $1 million.

"For lord's sake, it's a loan," exclaims Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville economic development director. "There's no free money."

That wasn't apparent to Councilor Rob Schilling, the lone vote against the Capshaw project. Already concerned about the below-market 3.7 percent interest rate on the $2.4 million, Schilling wonders why, if the $1 million contribution isn't a grant, it's listed as a separate item. "If it truly was a loan, why didn't it say that?" he asks.

The 20-year, $2.4 million loan will be paid back first through a ticket surcharge, according to Watts. "I think we looked at it, and the $1 million for infrastructure benefits citizens, who can use it for over 300 days a year."

Other councilors are ecstatic to have Capshaw take the entertainment helm of the east end of the Mall. Mayor Maurice Cox calls last week's vote "one of my most proud moments from eight years on council."

The Capshaw touch allows Charlottesville "a venue that attracts national acts," says Cox, who notes that the Paramount, which seats 1,200, and the amphitheater, which will provide covered outdoor seating for 3,500, solidify downtown's hold on arts and cultural offerings, and finally completes Downtown Mall designer Lawrence Halprin's plan for the east end of the mall.

Cox says the amphitheater will draw hundreds of thousands of people– and dollars– to the Downtown Mall. "We are very fortunate that a place like Charlottesville has a person like Coran Capshaw who lives here. This wouldn't happen without his experience."

Schilling points out that the city has recently endured "substantial" tax increases. "On what rational basis do we raise taxes when we have millions laying around and $3.4 million we can loan to pay for the amphitheater?" he asks.

"I think Coran is known more for giving back to the city than for taking from it," says Mayor Cox. "He's agreed to program 50 days with acts we'd normally have to go to Richmond or Washington to see."

Actually, Capshaw can program even more events if he likes, says Watts, who suspects 35 to 40 events is a more likely number.

The city approached Capshaw about running the amphitheater over a year and half ago while planning President's Plaza, an east Mall makeover that includes a tourist and transit center. "When we were taking a look at the transit center, we didn't want to do that now and the amphitheater later," says Watts.

Capshaw's dream of an indoor-outdoor amphitheater goes back to 1995, when he attempted to win approval for the Pavilion at Riverbend, a 7,000-person venue on land he owned behind Pantops Shopping Center. His effort was thwarted when the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association complained about alleged noise and county staffers said the site couldn't handle the traffic.

Noise is a concern for Schilling. Watts says a berm, lowered stage, and limited operating hours will mean less sound spillover– plus, adds Watts, there are "some pretty strong penalties" for violations of Charlottesville's noise ordinance.

Capshaw won't just offer rock concerts. He may schedule wine and cheese events or craft shows, says Watts.

And because Capshaw has dealings with over 100 bands through his management and pack-and-ship companies, Watts predicts gospel one night, rock and roll another, and even classical or chamber music. "I think it's going to be a real variety," he enthuses.

Capshaw did not respond to The Hook's requests for comments by press time.

Many have pondered what this means for Charlottesville's summer weekend ritual, Fridays After 5– including its organizers, the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation.

"We're going to keep Fridays After 5," says Councilor Kevin Lynch. "I was adamant about that."

The city's lease with Capshaw provides for a "weekly free or low ticket price event during the concert season. These events shall be similar to the 'Fridays After Five' events."

As for any role by the Downtown Foundation, which has long poured money into nonprofit groups who pour the foundation's beer, "that needs to be worked out," says Lynch.

The foundation meets June 16 with the city and the new management company, says CDF president Eric Lamb. "We are greatly hopeful that we're going to be involved," says Lamb.

"But if Friday night is taken from us," he adds, "we as a board intend to proceed with Fridays After 5 in a different venue."

The new and improved amphitheater will avoid one pitfall that plagued Fridays– rain– with a cover. Cox likens the structure, designed by FTL Design Engineering Studio, to a sail that will make people think of the Monticello hillside in the distance.

"This feels like one of the more ambitious things the city has undertaken from an architectural perspective," says Cox. "I believe it's going to become one of the more pronounced downtown landmarks."

Another bonus for the city: Capshaw has to maintain it. "That roof is a million dollars in canvas that's going to have to be replaced every seven years," says Watts.

The lengthy lease brings home the fact that the downtown amphitheater doesn't have an official name– and it gives Capshaw the naming rights. Will Charlottesville see a place called MusicToday, in honor of Capshaw's pack-and-ship company– or a "FedEx Amphitheater" à la the Redskins field? It's possible, admits Watts, but he thinks the rights would sell for a much smaller amount than the NFL stadium name. Also, Capshaw has to get approval from CIDA and City Council, says Watts.

Some residents are grumbling that they can't get their sidewalks fixed– or even get sidewalks at all– and yet the city continues to invest in entertainment facilities like the Paramount and amphitheater, resulting in what activist Kevin Cox calls the "Aspenization" of Charlottesville.

"Where are they going to get enough entertainers for all these venues?" he asks. Or for that matter, the audiences?

"Yes, we care about the sidewalks," responds Mayor Maurice Cox. "For better or worse, Charlottesville believes it's a world class city. Cities that take on things like this show daring and ultimately, success. It doesn't surprise me Charlottesville is taking this extraordinary step. It's the most exciting small downtown in the country."

Wonders Kevin Cox, "Do you think the Kingston Trio is going to be there?"

Rained out no more– the Coran Capshaw-managed amphitheater will be covered in canvas from April to October and will be 15 degrees cooler, according to the city.