- Associated Press - Monday, April 27, 2020

WAITE PARK, Minn. (AP) - Construction of Waite Park’s new amphitheater - The Ledge - is scheduled to be completed at the end of May.

But it could be months before the $15 million amphitheater can be used for open-air concerts or community events.

The city didn’t release this year’s lineup - but concerts featuring national acts were in the works. The first concert was scheduled for mid-July, according to Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson.

“They’re not canceled yet but we’re growing concerned,” Johnson told the St. Cloud Times. “Are we really going to be in any position to have 5,000 people gathered in the space, even if it’s outside? I don’t know if that’s realistic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced venues and artists worldwide to cancel or postpone concerts indefinitely in efforts to lessen the spread of the disease. Although state and local leaders have talked about slowly reopening businesses, it’s likely social distancing guidelines will be in place for months.

For now, the city is taking a wait-and-see approach, Johnson said.

“We don’t really need to react quite yet,” she said.

In November, Waite Park City Council approved an operator agreement with Kansas City-based New West Presentations, a production company that will book acts and handle ticketing, advertising, security, concessions and cleanup.

In January, the city hired Meredith Lyon as the facility event coordinator. Lyon started in the role in March, right as the COVID-19 outbreak evolved into a pandemic.

The city plans to host events such as tastings or rent the space to nonprofits to use for fundraisers between scheduled concerts. Tickets for this year’s concerts were expected to go on sale in May.

But for now, everything is on hold.

“No one is going to be buying tickets and we don’t want to sell tickets if we don’t even know that it’s going to be open,” Johnson said.

The amphitheater is funded through $5 million in state bonding dollars, local-option sales tax dollars and the city’s street/utility fund. It’s being built on a 25-acre site nestled around two former granite quarries once operated by Martin Marietta.

It will hold about 3,500 people sitting and between 4,000-5,000 people standing - and is slated to be the site of 10-14 national touring shows each year.

“Realistically, I think we’re going to be looking at 2021 for national acts. But we’ll know more in a couple weeks,” Johnson said.

Because New West Presentations handles the booking, the city isn’t out any money for the lost season. The delay isn’t expected to impact the city budget, either.

“We weren’t planning to use amphitheater revenues this year anyways because we didn’t know what the first year would look like,” Johnson said. “But obviously we built it to be used and not to sit vacant. But it will (be used). We’ll get there.”

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