Jaycees say larger stage canopy would enable them to attract more prominent acts

Under the canopy of Hannibal’s Riverfront Amphitheater groups ranging from rock-and-roll bands, to jazz musicians, to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra once performed. Today, the only songs heard beneath the metal roof are those sung by birds.

The steel structure, which today is obscured by decades of vegetation growth in its current location south of Bear Creek, could once again serve as a musical venue if a deal can be finalized between the city, which owns the amphitheater cover, and Hannibal Jaycees, who want to buy and relocate it to property the civic organization owns on South Third Street.

It appeared that as recently as Thursday, July 13, that a deal might be imminent. City Manager Jeff LaGarce reported Thursday morning having had a “nice discussion on Tuesday (July 11)” with a representative of the Jaycees. He added that the Jaycees would be on the City Council’s Tuesday, July 18, meeting agenda with a formal request regarding the amphitheater structure, although the city manager declined to provide any details until after members of the Council had received their information packets for the July 18 meeting.

However, on mid afternoon Thursday LaGarce advised the Courier-Post that the Jaycees would not appearing before the Council on July 18.

“They are deferring their amphitheater request to the city for at least a few weeks,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They said they need to meet with their full membership first, but didn’t elaborate why this is so.”

At the Council’s July 6 meeting the Jaycees offered the city $5 for the amphitheater’s roof.

“Our organization is interested in purchasing the old amphitheater structure from the city and moving it to our location at 320 South Third St. downtown where we hold National Tom Sawyer Days and our other festivities,” explained Jaycees President Adrienne Abright. “Eventually we plan on it becoming the replacement for our current stage. It will allow us to accommodate a lot of larger national entertainment acts that require 16 feet of headroom. Our current stage does not provide that much headroom so we are looking to expand. These larger acts have the potential to bring in a significantly greater amount of revenue to the city than what the acts we are able to bring in at this time with our limited stage room.”

City support

Mayor James Hark expressed support for the removal of the steel structure, whose primary use now is as a shelter for transients.

“In the interest of serving the community I think it would be best for us to find a way to have that structure removed,” he said, noting it has not been used for a concert in approximately two decades. “It’s eventually going to become a hazard down there. It would probably be in our best interest from a legal aspect to get the structure down. We have someone who is willing to take it down, repurpose it and utilize it for the benefit of the community. I think that would be a win for the citizens.”

A possible agreement was derailed on July 6 after questions arose if the Jaycees’ $5 offer was enough.

“I would suggest (it is) probably not,” said City Attorney James Lemon, explaining the Missouri Constitution prohibits parting with public property to a private individual or entity without receiving fair compensation.

LaGarce, noting the structure’s inaccessibility, suggested that the Jaycees’ willingness to dismantle it and remove it would represent a savings to the city that would need to be taken into consideration when tabulating the amount of compensation.

“I think you’re on the right track,” said Lemon. “You just don’t want to get into a situation where we’ve given property away. There has to be some type of fair exchange. It doesn’t have to be direct cash. The idea the city is obtaining benefit from the removal of the structure I think would certainly calculate into it.”

The possibility of putting the canopy up for bid was proposed.

“We will follow the rules of the Constitution of the state of Missouri and if it is a situation where we have to put it out for bid first, we will do that,” said Hark. “This is the first group to express interest in removing it free of cost and been giving us some monetary return for the old steel structure. If we were to take it down ourselves and sell it off as scrap, the labor to remove it would outweigh the cost we would get as scrap. I really think this would be a win-win for the community.”

Past plans

Possibly the last formal proposal the city received regarding the revival of the Riverfront Amphitheater came in the spring of 1999 when Cindy Young, owner of Major Markets and Media Group of Monroe City, working in conjunction with Gateway Productions of Quincy, Ill., explained they wanted to clean up the amphitheater and book future concerts and events there.

The first concert was staged at the amphitheater in the summer of 1985 in the midst of the sesquicentennial celebration. It was followed by a number of famous acts such as Air Supply, The Beach Boys, The Oak Ridge Boys, Amy Grant and Al Hirt. Events took place at the amphitheater well into the early 1990s.

Among the major expenses associated with getting the amphitheater up and running again was the replacement of the floating walkway from Nipper Park to the amphitheater, gravel and lighting. The previous bridge was wiped out in a flood years earlier.

Among the major issues that existed when the amphitheater was in use was the noise level and the excessive use of alcohol by those attending events.

The Council approved entering into a contract with Gateway Productions at its May 4, 1999, meeting.

In December 2004, the Council heard a proposal originating within City Hall that would have seen the amphitheater property, which was being used periodically as the launch site for July Fourth fireworks, converted into a walking area.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com