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Tennessee Amphitheater Future On Hold

KNOXVILLE, TN (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — After all, it is the "other most-recognizable icon" at World's Fair Park, Knoxville City Councilwoman Barbara Pelot said.

And whether the aging Tennessee Amphitheater is worth the cost of renovating – versus demolishing – was a decision she and her fellow council members chose not to rush at a Thursday-evening workshop.

According to the Knoxville News it is the last element to be addressed in Mayor Bill Haslam's attempt to find solutions for the various properties still standing from the 1982 World's Fair. And it's the one that apparently has garnered the least interest.

"Everyone who was doing anything with entertainment in Knoxville said there was no way you could make money on it," said Bill Lyons, the city's policy director.

Though rusting and structurally at risk, the 1,500-seat venue's distinctive steel trusses and canvas tent top still make it one of the few such designs in the world and a source of local pride for some people.

Previously slated for demolition in 2002, a last-minute call from then-Mayor Victor Ashe saved the locally designed icon. It hasn't had much support since.

Four options for the site were presented to council by Jeff Galyon of the Public Building Authority, which manages the property.

A complete renovation foremost would have to replace the four flawed steel trusses supporting the main canvas.

"The trusses, it turned out, at the factory were manufactured incorrectly," Galyon said.

Replacing the outdated audio-visual equipment as well, adding restrooms and concessions and generally bringing up the site to building codes would raise the total cost to an estimated $3.4 million.

Complete demolition, on the other hand, would cost about $665,000.

Removing the tent, making minor upgrades and leaving the facility as an open-air, concrete amphitheater would cost $2.1 million.

A fourth option – to leave the separate, structurally sound tent over the stage area intact and invest in only minimal upgrades – could total $445,000.

Yet if the design is the cornerstone of its appeal, said Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy, then "taking the tent off isn't really an option. Otherwise, you just have an outdoor amphitheater. For me, that brings me down to complete renovation or demolition."

The city sold the Candy Factory and the park's seven Victorian houses in August 2005 to private developers Kinsey, Probasco, Hays & Associates. The city continues to negotiate with the firm for the long-term lease of the iconic Sunsphere – which tops the recognition list.

The original request for proposals for any and all of the properties, however, drew no interest in the amphitheater, Lyons said, partly due to Market Square's success as an outdoor entertainment venue.

Council members said they still want to see more feasibility numbers, however, before deciding whether the amphitheater is obsolete.

Vice Mayor Mark Brown asked for feedback from groups like SMG, which manages the Knoxville Convention Center at the park.

"To a degree, with great weather, I think it could be a great amenity for someone who wants to bring a convention here," he said. "But, of course, we do have the issue of practicality."