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Officials, Promoters Move To Bring More Quality Concerts To The First Coast

Richard Abrahamson

Northeast Florida is home to several concert venues and some of the biggest acts in music history have come to the First Coast to perform. But some local residents, particularly in Jacksonville, are asking if the city can do more to bring high quality entertainment to the region.

The St. Augustine Amphitheatre was originally built in 1965 to commemorate St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary on what was a 16-acre section of Anastasia State Park.  

The symphonic drama “The Cross and the Sword,” which re-enacted the founding of St. Augustine, ran at the amphitheatre to high acclaim for 32 years.

In 2002, it was purchased by St. Johns County and after a five-year renovation became a state of the art performance venue. The amphitheatre holds about 4,000 people.

General Manager Ryan Murphy hopes to add a lot of variety to the acts he brings to St. Augustine.

Credit Moultrie Creek / Flickr
Inside the St. Augustine Amplitheatre.

"I've been in St. Augustine about four years, and as I've been here I've noticed there has definitely been an influx of younger people," he said. "So we look at booking a lot of younger acts but as well as the mainstays of the baby boomer rock, a lot of the countr,y a lot of the stuff that is pretty sound and true as far as being successful at the amphitheatre."

Jacksonville’s closest comparison to the St. Augustine Amphitheatre is Metropolitan Park in downtown Jacksonville.

One problem the Met Park concerts have had that the amphitheatre has not is noise complaints and other conflicts with it’s residential neighbors. Murphy said that is due to the close relationship they have with others in the area around the amphitheatre. 

"We just really stay in touch with the people who live around the amphitheatre, that work around the amphitheater we are constantly out there talking to people," he said. "I know for every show we do a lot of the bars and restaurants in the area do great business so they really support us and they help us carry the cause and then a lot of the neighborhoods they'll have people parking down their streets and they'll be fine with that as long as they think the amphitheatre is something that's great to the community and the really see the impact of it."  

Some in Jacksonville say it’s really not fair to compare the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Met Park as concert venues. The stages and sound designs are different and Met Park was designed more as a family venue than a concert showcase.

Met Park has also seen far fewer improvements over the years.

Credit Kevin Meerschaert / WJCT
The tent and stage at Metropolitan Park in Jacksonville is in need of major renovations.

Local promoter Mike Yokan has used Met Park for major concerts like “Welcome to Rockville.” He said the park is in need of some major redevelopment.

"The infrastructure that is there is now very much outdated," he said. "Some of the things are great, you know the electrical, the maintenance crew, there are some things that are fantastic that go with that venue and there some things such as the lighting grid on the main stage is too low."

"Obviously the cover over the existing main stage is ancient and that needs not only to be recovered it needs to be rethought," he said.

The large tent at Metropolitan Park is scheduled to be replaced soon as part of the city’s park renovations.
Changes to the stage are being planned as well. But Yokan said there still are some other problems that need to be fixed at Met Park-- one being access to parking spots.

He also said Jacksonville needs a venue that would help fill the niche that the St. Augustine Amphitheatre currently provides. Yokan said right now there is little in Jacksonville that would fill the need between the 1,700 seat Florida Theatre and venues like Met Park and the 15,000-seat Veterans Memorial Arena.   

"We'd get a lot more acts coming to Jacksonville. It would not necessarily always be a we win, St. Augustine type of lose thing," he said. "That's a great market in St. Augustine, a very affluent clientele of patrons. I think both venues could do extremely well."

"I think we'd be like a Burger King and a McDonalds across the street from each other, they'd both do more business," he said.          

Jacksonville city officials said they have heard the complaints of concert promoters and fans and have made some moves to make it easier to put on events in Jacksonville. The city recently approved legislation to streamline the permitting process.

Yokan said it has already shown results it making it easier to work with the city.

Mayor Alvin Brown said he’s committed to bringing more entertainment acts to Jacksonville.              

"We're going to continue with working with all the key stakeholders, promoters, SMG and others. Continue to market not only just Metropolitan Park but all of other venues," he said.

"The Times-Union Center, we want to market the Ritz Theatre, the (Veterans Memorial) Arena, using all of our assets to make sure that we as a city work with all of those organizations who want to help us bring more events and activity to the city."

St. Augustine’s Ryan Murphy says he doesn’t consider the amphitheatre to be in competition with venues in Jacksonville. He says more acts coming to the area is good for the entire First Coast.

You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.

Kevin Meerschaert has left WJCT for new pursuits. He was the producer of First Coast Connect until October of 2018.