VAIL — Harry Frampton remembers the original hopes for Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. In retrospect, those hopes were absurdly modest.
“We thought it might have six or seven events in a summer,” said Frampton, the chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation Board of Directors.
Today, there are times when the amphitheater hosts that many events in a week.
From Hot Summer Nights to the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival to the Vail International Dance Festival and more, the amphitheater is one of Vail’s hottest spots in the summer. But, like most well-loved places, there comes a time when a little work is needed. That work has come in small doses over the past couple of decades. This year, though, the amphitheater received a thorough upgrade, from the walkway that connects the parking lot to the east, to better restrooms and terraced lawn seating that won’t require people to dig in their heels so deeply to keep a comfortable seat, or worry about a toddler rolling downhill and into a boulder.
The work at the amphitheater — begun after the last event last summer and continuing through the winter and spring — was unveiled to the general public June 18, at the town’s first Hot Summer Nights concert.
Jonny Stevens, the ticketing manager for Bravo! Vail, was at that concert, and said the improvements were most welcome.
“The lawn looks great,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot more room, and the new east bathrooms will be very helpful.”
Stevens said people at the show were happy to see the terraced seating on the lawn.
“It looks flat, but there’s still a slope, so people at the back of the terrace can still see the stage,” Stevens said.
Those improvements should be welcomed by Bravo! Vail patrons, too, Stevens said. “It should really provide an improved experience,” he said.
A better experience was the whole idea behind the improvements, Frampton said, especially given the state the facility was in by the end of last season.
“We were almost suffering from our own success,” Frampton said, adding that the entire facility needed to be refreshed, from the trash cans to the bathrooms and more.
“You don’t notice when something declines 2 percent in a year,” he said, adding that after a few years, the wear and tear starts to show.
Still, the amphitheater has its own character — Stevens calls it a “unique venue.”
Frampton said the plans for this renovation were intended to preserve that character while making the facility easier to use.
With the work inside the theater finished — for now — the next step is to improve the outside.
Frampton said during the planning for the improvements, former local architect Gordon Pierce suggested that the Foundation and the town of Vail look at the entire area between the eastern parking lot and the walkway to Manor Vail. That idea led to plans that include a small building for the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, a plaza just outside the theater and improvements to the walkways, signs and lights from the theater west to Manor Vail.
Plans for those improvements, though, became controversial earlier this year when several Vail residents said plans for the second phase of work put too much concrete and construction into Ford Park. Those complaints led the Vail Town Council earlier this year to revoke its previous approval that would have allowed applications for next phase of the work to be submitted to the town, pending a review and revision of the plans governing the park’s long-term use.
Frampton said he’s optimistic the second phase of the improvement project will eventually be approved.
“My sense is there’s a pretty good consensus that the area needs to be improved,” he said.
If an agreement can be forged, Frampton said work on that next stage of improvements could start in the next couple of years.
Until then, people at the theater will have nicer bathrooms, better sound and won’t have to worry about thier kids rolling away.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.