JACKSONVILLE — More than $1 million in improvements are slated at the Britt Festivals grounds after this year's season concludes Sept. 17, including adding 330 seats on the hillside amphitheater and replacing benches that date to 1987.
Concrete stairs, aisles, walkways and landings will be installed, a light pole will replace the current light tower, and landscaping will be added.
Current seating accommodates 662 people on the old benches, which are deteriorating from weather and three decades of use. Eleven of those were repaired for the 2016 season, and in some cases, they are literally held together by duct tape, said Britt President and CEO Donna Briggs.
An aging customer base has requested more seating to supplement the lawn option, Briggs said, noting that Britt has lost memberships because some patrons are unable to get reserved seats for popular shows.
In the new configuration, just under 1,000 seats will be available, along with lawn seating for 1,208 patrons. Very little of the current lawn space will be lost, Briggs said, because most of the new seats will be built over a gully adjacent to a fence. Replacement of the light tower with a light pole will improve views from parts of the lawn area.
Audience capacity for festival events is capped at 2,200 under a 2006 agreement and master plan developed with the city of Jacksonville. Approval for the project has already been secured from the city’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission.
Project cost is budgeted at $1,057,000, and there have been commitments of more than $500,000, including $125,000 in grants so far. Other grants are pending, said Briggs. Britt Facilities Manager Mike Holcombe will oversee the project and hire subcontractors.
New benches will come from an East Coast supplier and be made of Brazilian walnut, one of the densest hardwoods available. It’s guaranteed for 40 years, said Briggs. Concrete walkways will provide safer surfaces than the current gravel, she said.
A seat-sponsorship program will raise money for the replacements, new benches and other improvements. Donors will have a plaque with an inscription of their choice attached to a bench for a decade. Sponsorships range from $250 to $1,500. In one month, 67 benches have been sponsored, raising $62,000.
Since the 2006 agreement was reached, a number of upgrades have occurred, including a sidewalk along First Street, paved parking for disabled and band buses next to First Street, a new entrance, upgrades to the path leading through the Peter Britt Gardens, and a new food court arrangement currently being installed.
— Freelance writer Tony Boom lives in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.