Debut: Queen of Country to open amphitheater

Loretta Lynn has had the still-under-construction Charlottesville Pavilion on her tour schedule for months. It wasn't until last week the Coran Capshaw-run pavilion made it official: Lynn will inaugurate the new amphitheater July 30 with a benefit for Live Arts.

That means construction at the amphitheater, originally scheduled to open in May, has to be complete before then.

A June 1 city report blames rain– and the First Amendment Monument– for delays in the East End Mall extension, more so than the leaking oil and gasoline tanks discovered buried in front of City Hall that delayed the entire project for two to three weeks.

Organizers at the pavilion and Live Arts are confident everything is going to come together in the next six weeks– even if the amphitheater site currently looks like a gaping maw of raw earth.

"Our contractors have to keep it in high gear, and they say they're going to have it ready by July 30– or even a few days early," says Kirby Hutto, Charlottesville Pavilion general manager.

"This is a construction project people aren't used to seeing," explains Hutto. The steel arches and tensile membrane of the controversial covered amphitheater will be assembled off site. Once the slab is poured, "Everything goes up like a mushroom," says Hutto.

"We went through the same process with the opening of this building," says Live Arts director John Gibson, who points out that opening dates are not announced without the blessing of the contractor.

"We know it's infrastructure and uncomfortable looking up until the end," he says.

Gibson is ecstatic Live Arts will be the beneficiary of the Loretta Lynn show. "We pitched the idea to Musictoday, Starr Hill and the pavilion. They loved it and said, 'yes, please.'"

The theater group offered tickets for sale June 14 that range from $125 up to $250 for Gold Circle and box seating. "This is the first time we've landed an event of this scale," says Gibson.

And while he declines to estimate what a presumably sold-out Lynn show would net, "It'll be the biggest single night in Live Arts history– and we've done six-figure [fundraising] nights before," he says.

At a June 20 press conference, Kirby Hutto plans to announce more artists who will be playing the Charlottesville Pavilion and the schedule for the rest of the season's Fridays After 5.

Meanwhile, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is taking exception to the fact its First Amendment Monument was blamed for delaying east end construction in an article in the June 7 Daily Progress.

"Everyone I spoke with," says Josh Wheeler at the Thomas Jefferson Center, "said it was incorrect to single out the First Amendment Monument as the sole cause, or even the primary cause, for delays in the project as a whole."

"Nowhere in my article did I say the monument could delay the amphitheater's construction," clarifies John Yellig, who wrote the Progress article, on

And while it's easy to lump all the east mall activities as one big construction mess, actually, four different projects are going on using different contractors: the amphitheater, the East End extension, the First Amendment monument, and the not-yet-begun transit center.

Wheeler says the city approached the Center this spring to build the monument's basic support at the same time work was being done on the east end extension. "It makes no sense to finish the east end of the mall and then have to go back and dig it up to build the monument," agrees Wheeler.

He says it was never the center's intention to finish the monument this summer. "It's amazing how quickly our project managers have been able to meet every deadline," say Wheeler, who adds that contractor R.E. Lee, which is handling the east end extension, is still committed to finishing by the end of July.

The Free Speech Monument "has completely halted mall extension work," according to the first paragraph of a report presented June 6 to City Council from City Manager Gary O'Connell, Aubrey Watts, director of economic development, and Mike Mollica in facilities management.

Again on page two, while noting that weather has had a significant impact on the east end extension, the report states the Free Speech Monument has "to date, caused all work on the first section of mall construction to slow down."

Finally, the report mentions the discovery of four underground storage tanks in March, which had to be removed, along with contaminated soil.

The tanks– two with heating oil, one with gasoline, and one with used oil– had been buried in front of City Hall directly in the path of critical utility lines and water and waste water pipes and were found during excavation, says city spokesman Maurice Jones. "We didn't know about them," he says. "From an environmental standpoint, we had to take it slow to remove them."

The tanks, mostly filled with groundwater, were leaking slightly with "a relatively small level of contaminants" when discovered, says Jones. The Department of Environmental Quality was notified, and the city worked with an environmental consultant to remove them and 150 tons of contaminated soil.

As for the First Amendment Monument, "This issue has been blown out of proportion," says Jones. "The delay was minor and not out of line for this sort of project."

Jones says that as of June 6, the same day the report was made to City Council, the installation of the monument's extensive underground electrical infrastructure was not holding up the mall extension.

Josh Wheeler just wants to make sure that if, heaven forbid, the amphitheater isn't finished in time and Loretta Lynn can't play, people won't blame the First Amendment Monument.

Neither rain nor leaky oil tanks in front of City Hall will stop the July 30 opening of the Charlottesville Pavilion with Loretta Lynn.