The Ruby Amphitheater is your go-to place in 2021.
When we say “good times with friends,” do you think “Yay! Live music and theater!”? If so, then downtown is about to be the destination for you.
The Metropolitan Theatre and Ruby Amphitheater are getting major upgrades in the city’s 2021–26 Capital Improvement Plan—and Vincent Kitch, the city’s director of Arts and Cultural Development, says events will start up at the open-air amphitheater soon.
First, about the Met. To longtime residents, it may seem like just a few years since the fully restored 1924 Metropolitan Theatre started hosting shows again. But it was actually over a decade ago, and the wear and tear has begun to show. So the city is planning several years of upgrades before the theater’s centennial in 2024.
Seating and carpeting are to be replaced over the coming year. “They have 30,000 to 40,000 people coming through the Met most years,” Kitch says. “Some of the seats are falling apart. And of course, when you replace the seats, that’s the time to do the carpet.”
And the marquee and digital displays are budgeted for replacement in 2023–24. The current digital signage is small, Kitch says, and a more spectacular marquee could better represent the theater’s glamor. “We have dreams of having something more impactful as a cultural anchor,” he says. “The Met plays a huge role in ongoing downtown development, in the nightlife—it should have a stronger presence, and this will help us do that.”
The city has taken the opportunity of the pandemic quiet period to paint, clean, and polish, and that, along with roof and HVAC replacements and the new seats, carpet, and marquee, will make the theater the jewel of downtown by the time of its centennial.
Of course, it’s a little early in the COVID-19 bounceback to hold events inside the Met just yet—but the just-improved Ruby Amphitheater comes to the rescue. The main aspects of the amphitheater overhaul were completed in 2020: most visibly, a canopy for the seating, as well as expansions to the stage and seating areas and renovations at the depot.
But important refinements are yet to come. Those include, over the coming year, creation of a reserved seating area as well as upgrades to the sound and lighting functions. “We don’t have the capability to hang sound or lighting equipment yet—that will let us do events in a more professional way,” Kitch says.
And in 2022-23, a major comfort boost: seat backs.
The park now seats 1,200 in the bowl and has a full capacity of 2,800, so it’s easily possible to hold events for several hundred people while observing distancing. And programming is starting to ramp up, Kitch says, with at least one private nonprofit event and a few soon-to-be-announced public performances set for April and local dance companies setting dates in May. Summer events under discussion include local music and theater ensembles, touring concerts, comedy nights, Shakespeare in the Park, and more. The city’s 4th of July celebration may also return to the riverfront.
“The park is coming alive,” Kitch says. “We’re excited that things are starting to happen both at the Met and at the amphitheater, and we’re hoping we can start sharing arts and culture with people safely. Everyone is champing at the bit to get into a venue and have performances. We’re going to do everything we can to support that.“