A person can expect to hear many sounds at an outdoor concert, but the just-opened Ford Amphitheater in New York’s Coney Island may be the only one with seagulls, a roller coaster and crashing ocean waves. The 5,000-seat tented shed’s beachfront location, alongside the boardwalk and just blocks from Coney Island’s legendary amusement parks (and four subway lines and paid parking lots), is a big part of its allure. Built out from a landmarked-but-dilapidated 1923 eatery called Childs, the venue ultimately will include a rooftop cafe and, behind the stage, a restaurant with an 80-foot-long bar; the stage can be reconfigured to face the restaurant to allow for wintertime events. The building has been constructed to withstand flooding and natural disasters like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the Tri-State region. The $60 million complex is expected to bring 240 jobs to the economically challenged area. Developer iStar Financial will also develop the lot next to the amphitheater with residential and retail projects.
Click on the image below to see more photos of the Ford Amphitheater:
Via a complicated deal, iStar — which was traditionally a lender, not a developer — took control of the property in 2009 from a developer whose project had failed. It then sold the building and some of the land to the City of New York for $16.1 million (part of the site was already owned by the city), which leased it to a joint venture between iStar and the not-for-profit Coney Island USA called Seaside Park LLC “with an obligation for turnkey development of the amphitheater, which we have now completed,” says iStar evp of land & development Karl Frey. iStar controls the building for the next 10 years and subleases it to Live Nation for operations.
The venue’s first season of shows reflects the diverse audiences it intends to attract: After an opening party headlined by reggae artist Ziggy Marley, the July 4th holiday included Sting, Peter Gabriel and the Beach Boys, with Maxwell and the Hollywood Vampires (during which guitarist Joe Perry was hospitalized) on the following weekend; the 40-plus shows over the summer also include Erykah Badu, Boston, Jane’s Addiction, Don Henley, Willie Nelson and a vintage “funk fest” with Kool & the Gang, The Time and Bootsy Collins. “Once the summer was booked, I actually asked our marketing people to tell me how many musical genres are represented here, and they came up with a dozen over about 40 shows — that’s incredible,” says Live Nation North Atlantic president Alan Ostfield. “Mayor DeBlasio commented at our press conference, ‘That may be incredible, but that’s Brooklyn.’” The venue will also have a free concert series and plans to host sporting events, comedy, and “we’ve even gotten calls about a high school graduations,” Ostfield says.
“When you can take a cultural institution and set it down in a derelict neighborhood, often that’s the catalyst for a rebirth,” says Frey. “The amphitheater is going to help anchor that end of the boardwalk. Just wait till you see what it looks like in three or four years.”
A version of this article first appeared in the July 23 issue of Billboard.