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Audience members attending the inaugural performance said they were impressed by the facility.
Photos by REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
After the opening ceremony, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Virginia Ballet performed "Peter and the Wolf" for the crowd. Many in the audience said they were impressed with Elmwood Park's new amphitheater, which can accommodate some 5,000 people.
Photos by REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Members of the Southwest Virginia Ballet and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra perform "Peter and the Wolf" on Saturday to inaugurate the new amphitheater in Elmwood Park. The facility is intended as a venue for community-oriented events.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Chloe Hopkins, 4, of Roanoke County, watches the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Virginia Ballet performance of "Peter and the Wolf" from the lap of her mother, Nikki. "She's excited to watch dancers," Nikki said.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Alex Doherty and his little brother Teddy were delighted by the performance of “Peter and the Wolf” that they witnessed Saturday afternoon at the reopened Elmwood Park in Roanoke.
Their parents, Mike and Emily, were impressed with the brand new structure where the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Virginia Ballet entertained an appreciative audience.
“I think it’s well done,” said Mike Doherty, who lives with his family in Daleville. “Hopefully it will stay nice like this.”
The performance was the first event in Elmwood Park’s new amphitheater, the centerpiece of a $7 million park renovation that the public got to see for the first time Saturday. The reviews were good, and cloudy skies didn’t dim the glow coming from city officials and those responsible for the project’s design and construction.
“A huge sigh of relief,” said Steven Buschor, Roanoke’s director of parks and recreation. “It is an incredible thing to finally hear the symphony playing in the park. It’s something we’ve waited for a long, long time.”
David Hill, whose Roanoke firm Hill Studio designed the amphitheater project, declared himself “very pleased” with Saturday’s opening. Contractors were putting the finishing touches on the facility as late as Friday night, he said.
“We’re delighted today that things worked as well or better than expected,” he said.
Part of the facility’s perimeter still had the telltale signs of a construction zone Saturday. That’s because crews are beginning a major renovation of Roanoke’s Main Library, a project designed to better connect the library to the surrounding park. But that didn’t diminish the experience for some visitors.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Sherry Vass of Hollins, who brought her 4-year-old daughter Katie Jane to watch “Peter and the Wolf” and Randolph Walker’s performance of “Green Eggs and Ham.”
The amphitheater’s debut marked the culmination of a long and sometimes contentious process that included debates over where to build the amphitheater and whether to build it at all. Original plans called for a theater that would have 3,000 covered seats, but the city retooled those plans during the recession.
What the public saw Saturday was an open-air site with terraced seating designed to blend in with the park. The facility has a total capacity of 5,000, including areas beyond the terraced seating.
As city officials led a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the covered stage, water jetted from interactive fountains between the stage and seating area. Built-in LED lights can create a water show “any color you can imagine,” Buschor said. But the fountains are not just there for visual effect , he said.
“We want kids to play in it,” Buschor said. “We want adults to play in it.”
That’s because Elmwood Park is intended to remain very much a community park, amphitheater and all. City officials put a greater priority on making the park available for nonprofit organizations and community events than for commercial attractions, though the facility can accommodate big concerts.
“We’re going to keep the cost low so that they use this wonderful facility,” Buschor said during Saturday’s opening ceremony.
Emily Doherty said the city’s strategy makes sense.
“I don’t know how a venue like this would support the traffic for a big event,” she said. “It’s not like we have big parking lots.”
Mike Doherty, who recently served on the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra board, said the amphitheater “is exactly the size we need.”
“We’ve got the [Roanoke] Civic Center for the big shows,” he said.
Mayor David Bowers said the reopening of the park and the planned conversion of Market Square into a pedestrian plaza are key steps in transforming Roanoke into “a walk-able city.”
Emily Doherty was impressed with what she saw Saturday.
“We used to live here in the 1990s and there was nothing going on downtown, and so it’s really exciting to see this,” she said.
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