Days numbered for old Lowell amphitheater

February 17, 2009
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The old Showboat Theater in Lowell is facing its swan song.

Once a venue for the Summer Showboat concert series, the old amphitheater has fallen into disrepair. Now the city’s Downtown Development Authority is planning its demise.

“It was a frequent source of vandalism over the years, so in the last few years we took the wooden bleachers out,” said James Reagan, a dentist who chairs the DDA. “Now we have a big slab of concrete out there. It’s not very inviting.”

The DDA plans to spend $75,000 for removal of the crumbling structure of the former amphitheater, probably in the spring, Reagan said.

“Our river walk comes down the river, then comes to a big fortress that’s fenced off,” he said. “We’d like to take the concrete out and make it green space.”

That’s the first step of the plan, said Lowell City Manager Dave Pasquale. He said Design Plus has come up with several ideas for re-using the space, perhaps even adding a smaller area for a stage and seating that could double as an ice skating rink.

“Basically, we have a river walk that extends from M-21 along the east side of the Flat River. … It ends short of the old amphitheater,” Pasquale said. “We are looking at ways to try to upgrade the appearance without spending enormous sums of money on it.”

Other possibilities for the area include an extension of the river walk to Lafayette Street, and playground equipment.

“We’re not looking to do anything grandiose with it,” Pasquale added. “We’re trying to clean up the area.”

However, any improvements beyond grass seed may be several years in the future and may require the Lowell Area Community Foundation’s help, he said. Cost estimates of the ideas for the change run as high as more than $500,000.

But if the area, which once hosted as many as 4,000 people, remains a stretch of grass for a few years, that’s fine, too, Pasquale said.

“It will depend very much on the availability of funds,” he said. “The main thing we’re trying to do now is clean it up so it looks presentable.”

Liz Baker, Lowell Chamber of Commerce executive director, said her board of directors is happy with plans to do something about an eyesore.

“That amphitheater is just the ugliest piece of whatever, sitting in a prime location,” Baker said. “It’s just past its time and service. It has no purpose. To be able to clean it up and phase out a park-like setting will just be a tremendous asset to the river walk area.”

Pasquale said the initial work will be bid out and is likely to be performed in the spring.

The Summer Showboat weekly concert series has moved to another location along the Flat River, he added.

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