Arlington, VA

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
Co-Presidents
Lubber Run Amphitheater Foundation, Inc.

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