No. 23

May 01, 2015

Concertgoers at Merriweather Post Pavilion can expect shorter lines this summer, as the outdoor music venue installs more concession stands and restrooms in renovations that began in February. The changes are part of the first phase of a multiyear, $19 million-plus facelift, which will also include integrating new seats and raising the pavilion and stage roofs. The goal is to get the bulk of the renovations complete in 2017, when Merriweather celebrates its 50th anniversary.

"Let's take Merriweather to the next generation or two generations down the road," Merriweather general manager Brad Canfield said during a Tuesday morning tour of the site, as he pointed out changes in the biggest transformation in the venue's history. Howard Hughes Corp. plans to modernize the 47-year-old amphitheater's aging facilities and help it compete for bigger acts. County officials and residents see the renovation as a critical component of downtown Columbia's revitalization. "It's a central focal point of arts and culture and a real anchor of the town center of Columbia," says former Howard County executive Ken Ulman, who now owns his own consulting firm and has been a big proponent of the renovations. "Its role is a catalyst for future redevelopment."

The renovations will continue after the concert season debuts May 1, but construction crews will stop their work before each show. Most of the summer renovations are clustered in the west plaza, which is to the right of the stage. A new box office will open June 1st, while a larger merchandise area and concession stand selling burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches, and margaritas will open later in the month. New restrooms and another larger concession stand selling everything from pizzas to nachos and soft pretzels will open in August near the pavilion, making it a quicker trip for folks who purchase seats. Additionally, there will be some local food and drink served, as Hagerstown-based Hoffman's Quality Meats will supply hot dogs, pulled pork, and sausage and Union Craft Brewing will sell beer. The new concessions will also have more refrigeration space and a dedicated kitchen so guests can get their hot dogs fresh off the grill rather than waiting for them to be shuttled from the other side of the venue. "The idea is that these restrooms and snacks serve people [seated] in the pavilion," though they will be open to everyone, says Canfield. "We can keep more fresh food and cook it faster. It will bring us closer to made-to-order cooking."

Visitors will also get to arrive from a new entrance, just off Little Patuxent Parkway, when the concert season kicks off with a rock festival May 1-2. Other highlights of the season include British crooner Sam Smith, folk rockers Mumford and Sons and the two-day Sweetlife Festival May 30-31 with Kendrick Lamar, Calvin Harris and dishes by Spike Gjerde, José Andrés, and other renowned chefs. When the concert season wraps up, crews will begin replacing the nearly 500 seats with newer ones. The last four rows in the pavilion already have the newer seats and the rows of folding chairs in the far right and left loges will get permanent seats. Howard Hughes will also construct a bigger stage with a higher roof and put more steel at the top where band crews can hang their production equipment. These changes will help it attract bigger touring productions, like the Dave Matthews Band, which hasn't played at Merriweather in more than a decade. "This is total plastic surgery—new elbows, new hips, new face," Canfield says. "The challenge is keeping the character of the property, but improving it from a physical and cosmetic standpoint as much as we can."

Merriweather Post Pavillion Renovation Under Construction

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