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Creating an Iconic Concert Venue

by: Jack Quigley
A $17 million public-private partnership between White River State Park Development Commission (WRSPDC) and Live Nation will add more permanent restrooms, a permanent stage, an artist amenities building, and 3,000 new seats to the downtown concert venue. An additional $10.8 million in funding for the project will go towards constructing a steel-clad canopy over the stage equipped with LED lights to make the concert venue visible from afar.
Permanent Restrooms
Priority number one for the WRSPDC, Live Nation, and concertgoers was adding permanent restroom facilities to the venue. White River State Park’s lack of fixed restrooms in the past forced the park to rent portable toilets for concertgoers.

Stephen Andoh, AIA, LEED AP Project Manager at Axis Architecture said the first element addressed by the project team in phase one was the addition of more restrooms into the existing visitors center. Adding more visitors center restrooms in phase one hardly addressed the problem, Andoh said, so more toilets were installed in the existing restrooms building in phase two.

Permanent Seats
Previously, the venue had no fixed seating and only offered lawn seating. White River State Park Amphitheater now has 3,000 fixed seats, as well as some interchangeable seats on a newly installed concrete pad located directly in front of the stage. This brings the venue’s total capacity to 7,500, with 4,500 seats available with lawn seating.

Andoh said about the new concrete pad, “The seats there can be removed so if people want to dance, or the park wants to offer standing room only, that gives them some flexibility.”

Additionally, the venue will have better seating for handicap people and all new seats will facilitate improved sightlines for spectators.

Permanent Stage and Stagehouse, Materiality
Live Nation and WRSPDC wanted this renovation to introduce a permanent stage that would eliminate the need for temporary stage setups used by the park in recent years.

The amphitheater’s cramped, temporary stage was only equipped to accommodate small bands, Andoh said, and would require assembly and dismantling before and after every concert season. WRSPDC and Live Nation determined it wasteful to continue taking down and putting up a temporary stage every season, so Axis designed a larger stage for the venue to attract bigger performers, accommodate better equipment, and create a safer, more enjoyable environment for spectators and performers.

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“Everything you see here goes towards creating an enhanced experience for both concertgoers and performers,” said Andoh.

Andoh explained the new stage grid has a higher capacity for speakers and other equipment used by performers, benefitting both the artist and the spectator through improved sound quality.

An added loading dock designed to accommodate semitrucks will facilitate easier offloading of performers’ equipment and create more accessibility to the docks from the stage, Andoh said. With more loading space, one performer can offload their equipment onto the stage while another unloads, allowing the venue to host multiple performers at the same time.

Axis also had safety in mind in their stage design process. The amphitheater’s new stage grid is designed with an enhanced fall protection system bolstered by the structure’s steel and concrete makeup. Andoh said stage collapses are often caused by temporary setups unlike the permanent structure built in this renovation.

Precast concrete insulation for the new stagehouse was picked to match existing granite and limestone finishes on the visitors center, creating a cohesive visual environment across the venue. Andoh said the short construction timeframe for this renovation also made precast concrete an ideal materiality choice for this project.

Artist Amenities Building
In the past, performers were required to change clothes in makeshift facilities (like RV’s parked behind the stage) or rent hotel rooms when they wanted to freshen up before a show.
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Andoh said the new Artist Amenities Building includes washrooms, dressing rooms, laundry facilities, and areas to relax – all of which will allow artists to prepare in a more private environment located directly next to the stage.

‘Iconic’ Steel-Clad Canopy Over the Stage
Owners expressed to Axis their desire for this renovation to transform the Amphitheater at White River State Park into an “iconic” concert venue, Andoh said.

“One way to put up an iconic structure is to make it all too visible from most parts of downtown,” Andoh said. “Something that catches your eye and becomes part of a person’s image of Indianapolis.”

Andoh said Axis designed the $10.8 million canopy with that iconic feature in mind. Two new video screen towers connect the stage to the overhead canopy, while LED lights placed atop the steel-clad canopy make the structure visible from afar and draw a person’s eye to the venue.

“We want the canopy to become a beacon and a symbol of Indianapolis,” Andoh said.

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