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Onondaga County wraps up new amphitheater for Sept. 3 concert, with a little help from its friends

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney (right) and Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) both played crucial roles in getting the amphitheater ready. Wednesday they announced the first concert.

The final piece in the Onondaga County's Lakeview Amphitheater project is in place. Country singer Miranda Lambert has been inked as the first artist to play the venue. It’s taken just a little over year to get the sometimes controversial project ready for prime time.

Double shifts, fast-track legislation and a cooperative neighbor – those are some of the reasons Onondaga County has been able to transform a cliff made up of discarded soda ash into a stage and entertainment venue, overlooking a lake in the midst of being rescued from decades of pollution.  

The projects most vocal booster: Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney.

“We just haven’t let up, we’ve had our foot on the gas pedal for the last several months,” said Mahoney.

There were some bumps along the road though -- a balky county legislature that had to be convinced that artists would come and perform in an amphitheater in Central New York; environmentalists worried about lingering chemicals; and critics wondering why the county should spend money on an entertainment venue instead of fixing potholes.

“The fact that we’re going to have a show here Sept. 3 with Miranda Lambert, is really now, I hope answering those critics,” said Mahoney.

One of the keys to the amphitheater’s quick construction was last year’s state legislation that allowed it to be a “design-build project.” That means contractors submit a single bid, instead of different parts of a project being bid out separately. It’s the first project of its kind allowed to use this protocol. Syracuse-area Assembly Bill Magnarelli gets the credit for that.

“What the design-build allows you to do, along with a project labor agreement, is get everybody on the same page. Everybody coordinating together," said Magnarelli.

The other collaborator is the New York State Fair, which sits across the interstate from the amphitheater, and  which will undergo its own multimillion-dollar renovation in the coming year. Acting Fair Director Troy Waffner says the fair and the  amphitheater will have a symbiotic relationship.

“It’s going draw concerts here that the fair never had a shot at, that the fair hasn’t had a shot at for ten years,” said Waffner.

And he’s not worried that when Lambert takes the stage Sept. 3, two other fair stages will be featuring other high profile performers that same day.

"Miranda Lambert will probably sell out. Meghan Trainor will put 25,000 people in Chevy Court. Patti LeBelle will hold her own out at the grandstand. It’s actually a great diversity of acts, from pop to soul to country,” said Waffner.

Mahoney says now that this first concert is under the county’s belt, it will be the start of an economic impact the county estimates in the tens of millions.

"I think people will see very quickly that this is an economic engine, that’s going to fuel those projects where we are going to be fixing water pipes and paving roads with the dollars that spin off of this amphitheater,” said Mahoney.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.