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(Re-)setting the stage: Major upgrades begin at Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater

Les Schwab Amphitheater renovation 1214
Submitted photo
Rendering of renovated stage at the Les Schwab Amphitheater

(Update: More on area of synthetic lawn; much of space remains real grass)

Multi-phase project begins on the eve of venue's 20th birthday

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After a downbeat, way-too-quiet "concert season" like no other -- and never again, many hope -- work begins this week on a $4 million-plus, multi-phase upgrade of Bend’s popular Les Schwab Amphitheater.

The goals of the renovation, according to Monday's announcement, are "to enhance accessibility for all guests, attract more talent and performers, and continue to provide economic benefits for the Central Oregon region."

The first phase of construction began Monday and is expected to be finished by next June, in time to make way for a typically robust (and 20th anniversary) concert season, if the efforts to curb COVID-19 and resume such fun activities go as planned. 

“We are thrilled to be able to offer the structural capacity necessary to host all of the amazing artists interested in making Bend a stop on their tour,” said Marney Smith, Les Schwab Amphitheater’s general manager.

“In the past, we’ve lost interested artists due to stage capacity,” Smith added. “Solving that challenge allows us the opportunity to provide an even broader and more varied lineup. Coupled with the planned accessibility updates, this furthers our goal to provide the best experience possible for both our guests and visiting artists.”

Phase I of construction includes “right-sizing” the amphitheater stage to attract a wider variety of touring artists, comedians and other performers.

The new stage will feature a minimalist design, with pine accents to pay homage to Bend’s vibrant sawmill history, and is designed to minimize architectural impact as much as possible, the organization said.

The stage will grow moderately larger in size, with a significant increase in structural capacity, resulting in a stage height of 62 feet and an additional 1,840 square feet in total stage footprint.

Certain elements from the current stage will be upcycled and reused in later phases, including steel beams and the custom artwork that currently adorns the back of the stage.

Accessibility enhancements begin in Phase I and will include a full Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pathway from the ADA gate that spans the entire venue, and screens on stage. 

The privately funded project "allows Les Schwab Amphitheater to continue connecting Central Oregonians to live music, improving accessibility and continue bolstering the local economy with live entertainment," the announcement said.

Bend’s R&H Construction will serve as the general contractor, and local companies Latham Excavation and Elite Electric will provide additional services.

After next summer's season, Phase II of construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2021, with subsequent phases in following years.

Improvements slated for future phases include re-grading the venue, box seating, the addition of semi-permanent restrooms, new permanent food and beverage options, walk-through metal detectors and more.

Accessibility improvements will continue throughout the multi-phased project, providing passive travel and equivalent seating for all abilities by project completion.

But for now, the amphitheater gates are locked. Public access will resume upon completion of construction. 

"We originally planned to do the whole thing in one fell swoop," Smith told NewsChannel 21 on Monday. "But of course, a total and complete stop to all concerts cause an adjustment to those plans."

The total cost of the renovations is expected to be $4 million to $4.5 million.

"One of the silver linings of having to piece out the project in phases is that it affords us time to poke holes through the future phases of the plans and really hone in on the things that will have the greatest impact on both the guests and artists at the shows, and the larger community," Smith said.

One big expected change a bit down the road that might raise some eyebrows: No more real grass. Fake turf has its pluses, Smith said.

"Phase II currently includes a synthetic lawn at the front of the venue, which sounds odd for an outdoor amphitheater," she said.

"But it will allow us to offer the venue to a wider variety of uses (i.e. community programming and rentals) and eliminate the need to wedge in time for watering, mowing, and allowing the grass to dry," she said. "So after Phase II, we could host a big concert on Saturday night and the community ballet on Sunday, for example."

Smith explained that the plan is only for synthetic lawn on the front one-third of the audience space, from the stage to the sound-mixer position, where the "pit" or reserved seats will be -- with a benefit of also being softer ground in an area where the artists' fans often stand and dance or stomp their feet, etc.

The middle section, from there to the top of the hill, would still be regular grass, with a steeper slope across the venue, for better views.

The back one-third, closest to the footbridge, is planned for a combination of landscaping and hard surfaces, graded nearly flat, for food and beverages and "what we call 'dwell space,' a spot to hang with your friends and family."

The flat area also would be easier to navigate in mobility devices, but Smith said while "it will feel like there is much more room to move around, we're not changing capacity."

The announcement concluded, "The Les Schwab Amphitheater has provided Central Oregon with nationally touring shows set against the backdrop of the brilliant Cascade Mountains and Deschutes River for the last 19 years. According to a 2015 Visit Bend Intercept survey, the amphitheater brings in about $1.2 million per concert for Bend’s local economy."

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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