Question: After falling into disrepair following its closing in 2012, could Evansville bring life back to the Mesker Park Amphitheatre?
Built in 1951, Mesker Park Amphitheatre was one-third of George L. Mesker’s contributions to the city — the others were Mesker Park and Mesker Park Zoo. Information from the Preservation Alliance of Evansville notes when the prominent sheet metal storefront manufacturer passed away in 1936, he bequeathed $750,000 to be used for park improvements. His hope was to have a music venue next to Evansville’s zoo.
World War II halted construction on the project and it was completed in 1951. For the next 60 years, Mesker Park Amphitheatre was a staple in the Evansville entertainment scene.
“It was a fantastic venue when it was in full bloom,” says Mike Sanders, a disc jockey for station 103GBF and a member of the Save Mesker Park Amphitheatre group. “I think it’s a real iconic part of the city.”
The amphitheater has a seating capacity of around 8,000, including the lawn, says Sanders. Owned by the City of Evansville, officials closed the venue in 2012 citing code violations from its poor condition. After three years, little to nothing has been done to the venue other than placing the seats from the former Roberts Municipal Stadium on the amphitheater grounds for storage.
Why Not Evansville?
In July, Nashville, Tennessee, city officials welcomed a new amphitheater to the city’s downtown. The Ascend Amphitheater, managed by Live Nation, sits on the former Nashville Thermal Transfer Plant site, which burned down in 2002. The city invested $52 million into the venue, which also is a part of a bigger park project on the banks of the Cumberland River.
An 11-acre park surrounds the venue and includes ornamental gardens, more than a mile of greenway trails, and a dog park. Ascend Amphitheater can hold 6,800 people: 2,200 in temporary lawn seats, 4,500 on the lawn, and 100 in premium box seats.
With the third largest population in Indiana, the idea of an outdoor amphitheater being successful is not far-fetched. As with many major projects in the community, it simply is in need of financial backing from a local business or organization.
Just as in days past, Sanders says the venue could bring in concerts “under the stars,” plays, and possibly music festivals.
“My theory is that it will always be a part of the zoo, but I would love to see it as a music venue,” he says. “So many places have both an indoor and outdoor venue — all of the mid to major cities from Louisville, Kentucky, to Indianapolis.”
“Ultimately, my dream is to see it return to glory,” says Sanders. “Again, I don’t think an individual could do it. It would have to be a group who believed that it could get a return on their investment.”