WAITE PARK, Minn. – Ever since a 2015 feasibility study concluded that an entertainment venue here could support acts such as Chicago, Heart and Bob Dylan, officials have been planning for opening night.
COVID-19 delayed last year's planned opening of the Ledge Amphitheater in this city abutting St. Cloud. This year, continued state capacity restrictions might delay hopes for national acts at the new $15 million venue, but local officials are determined to open for local events.
"The plans for opening are all obviously going to be contingent on what the state is going to do," said Shaunna Johnson, Waite Park city administrator, at a City Council meeting Monday.
City officials have been told by the company that will manage the area's largest venue that it needs to be able to operate at 50% capacity to bring in national acts. State limits are now set at 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. The Ledge, tucked between two former granite quarries on 25 acres, has a maximum capacity of 6,000 people.
New West Presentations, based in Kansas City, will book national acts and handle ticketing, advertising and security at the city-owned amphitheater, but on open dates, the city can host community events such as movies and smaller concerts.
There is still no official opening date. City officials hoped for a June 5 opening for an as-yet unannounced act, but with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 restrictions, that event is tentatively rescheduled for sometime in July.
This summer's lineup also hasn't been announced because production companies are in a wait-and-see mode, Johnson said.
Johnson said the city and production company are planning for the "worst-case scenario," which is only being able to open at 50% capacity by June. New West is designing an updated seating chart to align with restrictions, and the city is creating a COVID-19 preparedness plan for the site.
"Hopefully by July [the capacity] will be much more than 250, especially if people are vaccinated — and here you can spread out," said Meredith Lyon, facilities event coordinator for the venue.
The first publicly announced event is a July 23-25 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" put on by GREAT Theatre, a Waite Park-based company. GREAT Theatre shows are often housed at Paramount Center for the Arts in downtown St. Cloud, which has about 800 seats.
"This will be a great venue for them," Lyon said.
Construction on the $11.3 million amphitheater started in 2019. The total project cost, with land, utility and road improvement costs, is just under $15 million, according to Johnson.
The Ledge was funded by $5 million in state bonding approved by the Legislature in 2018, as well as local-option sales tax dollars and the city's street/utility fund dollars.
Officials are anticipating that the state will give short notice on restriction changes, which makes planning difficult. Another variable is how comfortable bands are performing during a pandemic.
"When they're ready, we'll be ready," Lyon said. "We'll be able to pack the house, as safely as we can."
Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299