Venueless: Amphitheater won't be ready for Fridays

Fridays After 5 is looking for temporary lodgings to start the 2005 season. Ground broke on the new Coran Capshaw-run amphitheater almost as soon as the last notes of the 2004 season played October 1, but mid-June is likely to be the earliest date the new facility can be ready.

"We're working on an alternative plan," says Kirby Hutto, general manager of the amphitheater for Capshaw's Charlottesville Pavillion LLC. "We're committed to making sure Fridays start as scheduled." Hutto declines to say what locations are under consideration, but he hopes to make an announcement soon.

Charlottesville's contract with Capshaw calls for the amphitheater to be complete by May 15, but the city can't point fingers because it's handling the mass grading– the excavation and installation of underground utilities– that's causing the delay. Some city officials are looking skyward for answers.

"Remember that rain?" asks Public Works Director Judy Mueller.

Add to that the departure of the man in charge of the project for the city, Bill Letteri, who left town December 3 to take a job as director of public works in Chapel Hill.

"It's always been an ambitious schedule," says Letteri in a call from North Carolina. He describes a complicated east end mall project with two design firms and multiple contractors.

"It requires a high level of coordination to complete the [amphitheater] project by the beginning of the season," he says. "We'd hoped it would be ready sometime in May. The contractor felt that would be possible."

"It's not surprising," says Letteri that the weather makes that date wishful thinking.

Ken McDonald, who's handling the amphitheater's construction for Capshaw, doesn't consider the project to be behind schedule. "January 15 is date for transitions from one contractor to another," he says. "That date is still firm."

Another unknown in the fate of Fridays is the role of the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, the organization that started the event 17 years ago.

In fact, the Foundation itself is in a state of flux. Director Gail Weakley resigned at the season's end amid some criticism from other board members of a press release she issued titled "Final Curtain for Fridays After 5."

And Foundation president Eric Lamb resigned the end of October to take a position on the board of a national group callled Operation Prom Graduation. "I'd been wanting to be on their board," he says.

Tony LaBua, a Downtown Foundation board member, says the organization is considering several different options. "We're in search of another nonprofit to share office space and expenses," he says. "We're still talking with the Capshaw group. We're in search of another property. We're all over the place."

He expects the organization to make decisions about what it's doing by the end of the year.

"We've had some continuing discussions with the Downtown Foundation," says Hutto. "One role we'd love for them to have is managing the volunteer base, which they have a history with and do really well."

The Foundation did not leap on that suggestion when it was made several months ago, but it's still on the table. "We've had some really good discussions," says Hutto.

As the owner of the name "Fridays After 5," the Downtown Foundation under Lamb did not exclude holding the event somewhere other than downtown. A venue search committee formed last fall. "They're still together," says LaBua, "and they're still looking at sites."

To be continued...


The new Capshaw amphitheater won't be ready in May for Fridays After 5.