Lubber Run Amphitheatre Supporters Question County Study

by ARLnow.com March 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm 5,176 50 Comments

Does the shuttered Lubber Run Amphitheater need some no-frills fixes or a complete overhaul before it can reopen? It depends who you ask.

Earlier this month Arlington County released a decidedly pessimistic study of the 43-year-old amphitheater and its surrounding grounds. The study, conducted by Neale Architects, concluded that bringing the amphitheater up to current code standards would require $2.5 million for an extensive renovation or a $3.5 million for a completely new facility, not including significant costs associated with Americans with Disabilities Act, Resource Protection Area and floodplain compliance.

The study “found a number of existing conditions that represent a hazard to public safety, including open trenches; steep grades; deteriorated benches; tilting walls; crumbling paving,” according to the county’s Lubber Run Amphitheater web site.

“The wooden stage has also deteriorated and the County will take action to remove it,” the assessment continued. “Mold is also present in some locations. Both the deteriorating stage and mold reflect underlying drainage problems.”

A newly-formed group called the Lubber Run Amphitheater Foundation, however, disputes many of the findings. In a letter to the county board (after the jump) and in a corresponding itemized assessment, the foundation says that the study contains errors, omissions and exaggerations. For instance, an “open trench” cited in the report is actually “a one-and-one-half inch depression in the asphalt,” according to the letter.

Instead of waiting for funding to be made available for a complete overhaul, the foundation is asking for “a low-impact, no-frills restoration of the venue that maintains its existing modest footprint.”

“The report seems to be saying that to save the amphitheater we have to totally replace it at the cost of millions of dollars,” said Lubber Run Amphitheater Foundation co-president Esther Bowring. “We’re asking the Board to take a closer look, talk with us and come up with a reasonable budget that will restore the existing amphitheater that has served Arlington’s public and cultural community well for more than 40 years.”

Arlington County Board
2100 Clarendon Blvd. Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201

March 28, 2011

Dear Board Members:

The Lubber Run Amphitheater (LRA) Foundation, Inc. and supporters requests a meeting between its representatives and the County Board, County Manager and all appropriate Staff at the earliest opportunity.

The Amphitheater’s ever-growing base of fans was energized by the chance to show support for LRA at the Budget Hearing on March 22, 2011. Four speakers called for funding to be included in Arlington County’s FY2012 Operating Budget or Capital Improvement Plan in order to address the immediate safety of Lubber Run Amphitheater and to implement a low impact, no-frills restoration of the venue that maintains its existing modest footprint.

Our community has asked to participate in the discussion of LRA’s future since December 2009 with little or no result. Initially, county staff asked us to wait for the Physical Needs Assessment that would be forthcoming in April 2010. We did so, and again asked to be involved. In April 2010 we were told to wait for the release of a third party feasibility study in August of that year. We again waited and repeated our requests to be involved in the process, as 2010 became 2011. We heard sincere assurances that community involvement was very important, but were informed the issues were far too complex to be shared with us until further review could be conducted. As you know, we independently found the study, the “Site and Building Assessment for the Lubber Run Amphitheater” by Neale Architects (Report), online nine days prior to this week’s Budget Hearing.

We have read the Report and feel that there are serious shortcomings. Instead of providing the cost to rehabilitate LRA to usable condition, which we believe to be the appropriate action, the Report recommends the most invasive, expensive upgrade option possible. Moreover, the Report lacks sufficient cost breakouts associated with the different recommended elements from which to make an informed judgment regarding how much work is actually required to rehabilitate the LRA.

Instead of the thorough third-party assessment that we were led to believe required the County’s private consideration for many months, the report contains no structural analysis and numerous apparent errors. One of the major ongoing issues the County has raised is the condition of the stage, and the report did not determine whether it is usable or not. Another major issue raised in the report was the condition and accessibility of the parking lot and restroom building. These resources are shared with other Lubber Run Park facilities, and should not be solely addressed as a cost issue for the Amphitheater.

We question the reliability of the report when, for example, it identified the seats as metal-covered when they are fiberglass and referred to a one-and-one-half inch depression in the asphalt as an open trench. We have attached a point-by-point assessment with photographs to illustrate what we found upon our inspection of the Amphitheater.

It would a travesty for the County Board to make decisions for Lubber Run Amphitheater’s future based on the Report without further input from those who know, use and love this facility. Lubber Run Amphitheater, with its 40-year history as a beloved part of Arlington’s cultural heritage deserves respect and consideration.

We will be in touch with your staff to set up the meeting this week at the Amphitheater so that we can resolve this issue before your budget vote. If you would like to contact us, you can reach Esther Bowring at [email protected] or by cell phone at 703-795-6310.

Thank you,

Greg Kunkle and Esther Bowring
Lubber Run Amphitheater Foundation, Inc.

  • borf

    I hope we can save the ampitheatre like we saved the planetarium. Let’s not build spend money building fancy new facilities while we’re letting beloved old ones fall apart.

    • Lou

      I think the “letting beloved old ones fall apart” part has already occurred. That’s why it costs so much to fix things when you defer maintenance for so long.

      And no, we should not allow the act of seeking public donations to support County facilities become the norm. Arlington has a vast and robust tax base that everyone loves to brag about, and a nearly $1 billion budget. What they needed to do in this case (and others like the Planetarium) is prioritize facility maintenance.

      • borf

        I agree Lou.

      • Overgrown Bush


    • Sue

      I agree completely. We should stop building these fancy new facilities and take care of what we have. Sounds like the architect on this is looking for a big fee for a fancy new facility.

  • Lyon Park Matt

    Watch, someone will want to turn the Lubber Run site into a dog park! We need another one of those like a hole in the head.

    • AllenB

      Nah. I’m okay with the $1.3M that will be spent on the Clarendon dog park. 😉

      • Allan

        With a side note that the majority of money for the Clarendon dog park is going into making it less of a dog park and more for people – the dogs didn’t need the expensive fountain (that’s going to cost a fortune to maintain), the multiple park benches, etc.

        Everybody and their dogs would have been happy with a few tree plantings, a lot of good mulch, a big, tall fence and some good trashcans that were emptied a little more often….but simplicity and functionality is not the “Arlington Way”.

        • CW

          Yeah, and people don’t need all the dog feces…dog owners are like invading hordes; they turn all people parks into dog parks around here by the time they’re through.

          • Sam

            Hmmm, not one dog park within walking distance of our neighborhood or even a drive of less than 10 minutes – but 6 parks with swingsets and sandboxes, 3 with basketball courts, 2 with soccer fields – all within 4 blocks of my house. Just love watching the guys spit, clean out their nostrils by blowing one or the other into the grass, sneaking behind a bush to relieve themselves – or watching the parents encourage their little ones to do the same if nature calls and no restrooms are close by, and dumping diapers into the trash cans….and not always in a bag like the dog owners do most often…

            I think you can rest easy that our county will have more human trash and bodily excrements to handle than dog feces in our parks.

          • CW

            I’m just saying that it’s much easier for dog owners to use a people park than it is for people to want to come and take their kids or something to a dog park. The former is especially true since dog owners believe that they have a divine mandate to claim every square inch of Arlington as theirs. This includes restaurants, stores, hallways of condo/apt buidlings, allowing cute little fluffy to run around on the sidewalk and jump all over people, 20-foot leashes on clarendon boulevard, etc.

  • steve

    Old computer geeks, remember in Leisure Suit Larry, “yeah, WE GOT LUBBERS!”???

    • Trolley Ollie

      YES. I was in junior high…. I bought the game at the Ballston Babbage’s, hoping that the clerk wouldn’t notice the age restriction…. It was a total let-down.

  • charlie

    the county spends several thousand dollars replacing signs for high end lyon village residents to park in front of their homes. but a true community resource that is enjoined by many is left to rot. this place is awesome and should be a priority for the county.-

    • brendan

      what a stupid comment — there are 22 parking zones spread throughout the county and available to every neighborhood.

      • charlie

        what a constructive comment — NONE of the permit parking zones “pay for themselves” and when signs have to be “replaced” it adds even more costs. Right?

        and they are not “available to every neighborhood” they are only available to neighborhoods which meet convoluted County requirements and dance cards.

        Lubber Run, GUlf Branch, Planetarium are COMMUNITY WIDE resources that make us a better place to live and raise children and we can’t fund them — why?? — because we spend money on other things that are stupid and only benefit a few — permit parking is one of them.

        • brendan

          1) using the “none of them pay for themselves” logic as you apply it – sewers, bike paths, parks, your beloved planetarium and this amphitheater are also out the door. However, they all go to the ‘livability’ factor, which is one of the main reasons a county of 200,000 has a billion dollars in tax revenue. Whether or not you agree with every small expense is up to you, but i’d recommend making some attempt at consistency.

          2) zoned parking is equally available to all neighborhoods based on certain guidelines. just like social services are available to anyone who is willing to file the paper work and meet the basic requirements.

          3) “Convoluted requirements”/guidelines? they’re so tough and discriminatory that even streets near lubber run that are fractionally as dense as Clarendon are zoned.

          4) the cost of these signs is negligible and if you want to bitch about fairness and “wasting your tax dollars” these people probably pay the county 2-3x what you and i do.

          5) whether it’s some sort of economic jealousy, love of inconsistencies, attempt to Tr0ll or simply your inability to read, repeated attempts to target one neighborhood as the source of the world’s problems comes off as incredibly stupid.

          since you’ve obviously never taken a peak at the parking zone map, i’ve attached a snapshot of it below – feel free to dig up the full pdf online.

          i see a pretty strong correlation between density, attractive commuter parking spots, commercial/residential buffer zones and the areas that are currently zoned, but no correlation indicating a difference in zoning practices based on wealth as so many like you love to assert.

          • Arlwhenever

            By far the largest cost of the zoned parking program is enforcement (labor and vehicles including those big bad ass pickup trucks the parking enforcment staff cruis in). If enforcement expenses had been used instead to maintain facilities like Lubber Run then it would be in working order and families countywide would be able to attend concerts and performances there as they had for decades. But now, instead we have GLBT kiss-ins at the Artisphere (I guess that crowd couldn’t put up with the odd mosquito bite or two so at Lubber Run so it could have saved the millions invested in the Artisphere).

          • charlie

            1. “none of them pay for themselves” logic as you apply it – sewers, bike paths, parks” — one would probably argue that these not only are “for the public good” but some are even highly necessary in todays society — again BENEFITS ALL.

            2. thanks for changing your statement from “available to all neighborhoods” to “available to all neighborhoods based on certain guidelines” big difference.

            3. “Convoluted requirements”/guidelines? they’re so tough and discriminatory that even streets near lubber run that are fractionally as dense as Clarendon are zoned” — are you suggesting that even “those” people could figure it out? Or better yet, are you disproving your point about density requiring permit parking?

            4. you have no idea what my house is worth nor the assessed value of my real estate portfolio. I can assure you that I pay more in real estate taxes than most Arlingtonians. But I’m very fine with that because Arlington is the best place ever to live.

            5. thanks for the map. i actually have a copy under my pillow.

          • brendan

            wow. umm… so let’s try something more on your level… what’s your favorite color?

          • brendan

            Find it hard to believe you have any money when you fail to understand basic concepts not to mention the attacks on “high end” neighborhoods but anyway.

            What don’t you get? Overall spending on livability issues does indeed benefit all – yes, claro. bravo! As with life – there are some qualifiers, details and exceptions… There are some things you like that i don’t, some things i like that you don’t, some things that neither of us like and some things that don’t impact either of us and yet still qualify as a public good/service. crazy how that works, eh?

            If there’s a particular type of thing you don’t like or believe there’s an unequal distribution of service, that’s fine… but specifically attacking a neighborhood for something that is in place across the county is lame and hints at other problems.

            in response to your specific comments.
            –> Yes. Everything in life has guidelines. My sincere apologies for having to clarify a concept you should have learned the first day of Kindergarten.

            –> I listed a basic summary of three different correlations i saw when briefly reviewing the map. i never said anything about the intelligence of any neighborhood or the details for qualifying.

            –> Anyone who claims on a blog to have a ‘portfolio of real estate’ is a tool shed and most likely doesn’t.

          • charlie


  • brendan

    Only in Arlington… $2.5 million to renovate a small outdoor amphitheatre.

    • Lou

      I just skimmed through the architect’s conditions report. I was looking for a cost estimate section with some sort of detailed break-down, but it is not included. The numbers are just stated as lump sum estimates for each option. A more detailed cost estimate almost certainly exists, no study of this magnitude can be conducted without one. The report is a little bit to text, and a lot of pictures.

      I’ve never heard of the architect, but I am very familiar with the engineer they hired and they do excellent work, although this type of job is not what I would associate with their firm.

      Given the scope of work, which deals with the whole site and not just the structures, the cost is probably not out of line. I’d like to see the break-down though, and find out who did the estimating. Architects are notoriously terrible at estimating construction costs.

      • Easton

        The architect will probably charge the County an additional $20,000 in fees for a detailed cost breakdown of their recommendations. Want to spot real government waste? Look at all the consultant fees we get stuck with.

    • Jason S.

      The cost is out of line, it’s a stage and seating. This simple stage costs more than a large house?

      • Lou

        No, the costs are associated with much more than just the stage and seating.

        • j.walker

          Is it a “full service” theatre? Perhaps they will be giving away hoverboards?

          Seriously, 2.5 million is a lot of money for an outdoor amphitheatre. I’ve seen historic indoor theatres undergo thorough renovations for half that.

          • Lou

            I would encourage you to read the report. If you’re familiar with renovation and construction, you will see where the costs could add up based on the recommendations. I’m not vouching for the exact cost because as I said, there is not even the most basic of construction cost break outs in the report that I read, and the concerns of the Foundation in regard to that are well founded.

          • j.walker

            The one released by the county reads like a list of repairs a dealer repair shop would recommend. It’s a bloated wish list to Santa. Definitely think a small group of citizens put together a more honest and therefore useful report.

          • Lou

            I’m not even that fixated on the costs. The money can be found in the budget if the will to do so exists. Or hey, how about some of those community improvement bonds? $5 million in bonds are going to get the community center started under construction on Columbia Pike. How about some creative financing for old North Arlington?

  • JimPB

    YES — maintain and use.

  • Whitney Wilson

    There does appear to be a bit of a troubling pattern where the county is spending serious money on new projects (e.g. the Artisphere, Log Branch park near the airport) while older facilities are left to whither on the vine.

    The new projects have many things to recommend them. It may make sense to have an Artisphere instead of a Lubber Run Ampitheater, but that is a discussion which should occur in the open with all of the options laid out.

  • brendan

    ummm yea. You start off with a reasonable point and then slide into some homophobic attack on something you disagree w/. I think a kiss-in event is lame for a variety of reasons but the sexual orientation of participants isn’t one of them.

    Also, as much as i dislike the parking enforcement folks – who find it perfectly suitable to block traffic and bike lanes to write a ticket, i’m pretty sure ticket revenue covers cost of enforcement in Clarendon. Tho, you’re right about the ridiculous trucks some of them drive. There’s absolutely zero need to equip meter maids w/ F-150s.

    • brendan

      oops that was for @Arlwhenever.

  • Diane

    We need a venue like Lubber Run Amphitheatre where families can enjoy old-fashioned cultural activities and nature.

  • Priorities

    I attended the budget hearing last week. What was interesting to me was the folks clamoring for a fix to this amphitheater versus the people who were asking for more funding for the homeless, those without access to medical care, those with mental disabilities, the jobless and underemployed, etc. While I would love to see the amphitheater restored, I just think that some of these more immediate human needs have to be the priority especially with limited resources in this tight budget.

    • LeRad

      A Lubber Run supporter at the hearings last week reminded everyone that this little gem of a place has provided free live performances in a friendly, inviting setting for decades. Kids can dance to the music and anybody and everybody can wander in and groove on live jazz or blue grass or dance. A lot of those “folks clamoring” for a chance to enjoy music and laughter and community under the stars again at Lubber Run amphitheater also stood up and were counted with A-SPAN, V.O.I.C.E., and library supporters and the advocates for the mentally ill. That’s exactly why they only want modest, economical repairs to this beloved part of Arlington’s culture. It’s not “versus”, it’s together.

  • Allison

    As a kid, I always loved to come to Lubber Run amphitheater with my family. Truly local spaces like this allow a neighborhood to become a community by drawing people out of the homes, and their busy lives. It gives neighbors the opportunity to meet one another through a positive shared experience. The free programming encourages people to attend just because something is happening- and with so many local theaters, musical groups, and performance centers that event could be truly memorable. The repairs needed seem so simple- most people aren’t interested looking at a fancy stage, they want to see the world that unfolds on that stage. A simple structure would do nicely, and last longer.

  • tristan

    It seems to me that it would be in the county’s interest to preserve and maintain unique and beloved community resources rather than allowing them to atrophy and decay unto oblivion. Watching a play or a concert with family and friends out in the warm air of a summer evening, accompanied by fireflies and, yes, mosquitos in a forested corner of an increasingly urban county is an utterly different experience than watching the same performances at, say, a thoroughly modern venue in Rosslyn. To preserve the amphitheatre is to preserve an entire sphere of experience, the loss of which would be a pity for the county.

    • AllTogetherNow

      Kum-ba-ya, my Lord, kum-ba-ya…

  • S

    I think I accidentally stepped on the trench once. My toes and heal were okay, but the fear in my arch of that inch deep canyon, I will never forget.

  • Allison Kennett

    It’s so obvious that the inspector was told to exaggerate the status of the amphitheater to make it impossible to fund any repairs. They need to get more than one opinion, hopefully it will not be another year in the making repleat with monumental foot dragging…..

  • Caroline

    I support a no-frills repair of this treasured performance venue. If our community leaders can muster the will, it seems to me that, with the exercise of a little common sense, preserving this cultural resource for our community should be a no-brainer.

  • DT

    Those numbers are outrageous. There is no way it would cost millions to repair the amphitheater. Does whoever did that estimate also need some money for the Prince of Nigeria? If so, I know his email address.

  • John G

    Knock it down and plant trees.

  • April

    Arlington taxpayers support a variety of upscale entertainment venues like tha Artisphere.

  • Kenny

    Sun Gazette Editor’s blog today: “Is the ‘Artisphere’ already on life support?”

  • Barbara Morland

    The Lubber Run Amphitheater has provided us decades of enjoyment during our almost 28 years of living only yards from the parking lot entrance. We have been introduced to local artists, emerging theater groups, and enjoyed cultural events featuring adults and students. We have enjoyed sharing our neighborhood with area friends and visiting grandchildren and meeting neighbors as we attended events. All of this with no frills. We are not asking for a multimillion dollar venue nor do we want a coninuation of the neglect of recent years. Please listen to our neighborhood representatives and help us to restore programming in this wonderful gathering place. Barbara Morland

  • Carey Johnston

    We are strong supporters of the Lubber Run amphitheater. The summertime shows at the amphitheater used to generate standing room only crowds, roars of laughter and applause, and friendly conversation between Arlingtonians. We strongly support repair of this facility. Lubber Run amphitheater has been and should continue to be a place of community. This gathering place brings together Arlingtonians of all walks of life, ages, and ethnic backgrounds to meet and learn from one another in a beautiful setting.


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