New Lexington amphitheater envisioned as prime catalyst for downtown development
Ribbon-cutting ceremony precedes this weekend's inaugural Lexington Craft Beerfest
After numerous weather-related construction delays over the past 13 months, Lexington’s long-awaited downtown amphitheater is officially open for business.
Led by Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall, numerous local officials and business and civic leaders took part in an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for the $2.9 million, 900-seat facility.
“It’s amazing,” said former Mayor Randy Halfacre, who led the town when the project was first conceived and adopted as a component of the town’s Vision Plan, approved by town council in 2012.
“It’s the fulfillment of a dream,” Halfacre said of the facility, the centerpiece of the town’s Project Icehouse. The project’s name pays homage to the facility’s site at the intersection of Main and Church streets that used to house a commercial propane business and ice plant created by businessman Frank Havird in the 1960s.
“We give many thanks to the Havird family who, like us, saw a vision for this property and made it available to the town,” MacDougall said.
It took much longer than expected to get to this point. The project started in late summer 2015 and was slated to open this past spring. But the project almost immediately encountered heavy rains, followed by the devastation of the historic October 2015 floods and then more rains at the beginning of 2016.
Construction delays were compounded further by nasty weather from Tropical Storm Hermine last month and Hurricane Matthew earlier this month.
“The fact that we are standing here today has truly taken a monumental effort,” MacDougall said, thanking town staff, constructions crews, and the project’s architect for their efforts.
In stark contrast, Thursday’s ceremony took place under sunny, brilliant blue skies. The mood was just as sunny among those who spoke in praise of the new facility – viewed not only as a downtown gathering spot for community concerts, plays, and festivals, but also as a catalyst for downtown development and tourism.
That was a vision first embraced by Halfacre and many other town leaders, and now by current leaders such as MacDougall and Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce CEO Otis Rawl.
“I see a future where (downtown) Lexington is just like Greenville and just like Charleston,” Rawl said. “With this entertainment center, I think economic development is going to take off downtown.”
Proposed future development for Project Icehouse includes boutique retail, eateries, and bars, boosting the revitalization of downtown Lexington into both a daytime and nighttime destination area for both locals and visitors, officials said.
The amphitheater will also allow for connectivity in the downtown area through Lexington Square Park, Virginia Hylton Park, the Lexington Municipal Complex, Palmetto Collegiate Institute, and other components of Project Icehouse, which currently includes the restoration of the Shirey Building on the 100 block of West Main Street.
The Columbia-based Alodia’s Cucina Italiana restaurant is slated to open a new restaurant on the ground floor of the two-story building, it was announced last month.
Another component of Project Icehouse, a 1.5-mile paved trail around the scenic 25-acre Old Mill pond linking to a separate 1.1-mile path through downtown, is on hold indefinitely because of the massive October 2015 flood damage to the Old Mill dam.
“It’s quite exciting,” said Halfacre, who believes the amphitheater is perhaps the most important project the town has yet done. “I’m just very pleased and I commend the town council for sticking with the vision plan. A lot of times you have a change in administration and they want to go their own way.”
“This is the marquis downtown,” Halfacre added. “And this is just the beginning, there’s no doubt about that.”
Opening events at the amphitheater begin with the Lexington Craft Beerfest on Saturday, October 15, from 6-10 p.m., featuring the Zac Brown tribute band, 20 Ride, and more than 30 craft-beer vendors. Tickets can be purchased from the Greater Lexington Chamber and Visitor Center’s website (www.lexingtonsc.org).
The town’s first free concert, Downtown Jams, will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 27. The event is a family-friendly event featuring live music from The Root Doctors, along with free face-painting, balloon animals. and a photo booth for souvenir pictures.