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Smithfield delays action on amphitheater project

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SMITHFIELD — The Smithfield Town Council delayed action on the Neuse Amphitheater renovation project at its Oct. 1 meeting. Mayor Andy Moore asked Parks and Recreation Director Gary Johnson to return with more information at the Nov. 12 council meeting.

Johnson told the mayor and council the amphitheater is old and outdated, not handicapped-accessible, has drainage issues and that the stage needs repairs.

Johnson said the total estimated cost of renovating the amphitheater is $908,923. Steps toward completing the project are conducting a U.S. Department of Agriculture-requested environmental study, submitting a request for proposals for construction plans, writing a memorandum of understanding with the Johnston County Tourism Authority for USDA loan payments, awarding construction bids, creating a new marketing plan and opening the new park in 2021.

“With an amphitheater, we can have more outdoor concerts, movie nights and plays in the park,” said Johnson. “It would not only attract tourists but residents. This could be a showcase for the town of Smithfield.”

Council members expressed concerns about flooding. The stage has been flooded 10 times in he last five years.

Mayor Pro-tem Travis Scott expressed concern about the cost and location.

“We should look at other sites,” said Scott. “I wish we had a better location. I struggle with spending $1 million for a location that’s expected to flood. I agree with an outdoor venue, it’s a great concept for the community. But it needs to be at a place that’s substantially safe.”

“My biggest concern is the river rising,” said Councilman Emery Ashley. “I don’t know if I’m sold on spending $1 million without further assurances.”

“I’m not sure I’d rule it out because of the location,” said Moore. “We’ve done very little to it and it’s stood 40 years. We’ve tried to capitalize on the river as a draw. If we can improve that area, there’s more information we need to have.”