Suwannee Democrat

November 28, 2012

The Suwannee Scribbler - Sounds great on paper

Jim Holmes
Suwannee Democrat

Live Oak — Sometimes certain ideas sound just great…at least on paper.

An unsinkable ship would certainly be one. Did I mention that phrase was used liberally a hundred years ago by the folks who were selling tickets for the maiden voyage on the Titanic?

Then there was the automobile marketed as being so advanced and revolutionary that its manufacturer elected to name it after one of its most progressive corporate leaders; Mr. Edsel Ford.  

I mention these two endeavors because of the recent scuttlebutt I have encountered about how desirable some folks apparently think it would be if Live Oak had an amphitheater.   

The first time the idea surfaced, the Heritage Park & Gardens property, off Helvenston Street, was mentioned as a possible location. More recently, I’ve heard talk of how nice it would be if such a facility were constructed in the heart of the downtown area, facing Warren Street.

Well, first off let me say I am not categorically opposed to our community building an amphitheater.  

On the other hand, it is going to take quite a bit of persuasion to convince me to get on that bandwagon, as my personal experience with such open air facilities has been less than stellar.

Until seven-years-ago, I spent my entire adult life living in the South Florida town of Fort Pierce. In 1960, the city-fathers - faced with a decaying downtown situation similar to Live Oak’s - decided it would be a great idea to construct a nearby amphitheater. And they had the perfect location; in the middle of a beautiful riverfront park, just a short and pleasant stroll from the heart of the city’s historic central business district. Fort Pierce’s mayor at the time was confident that such a facility would be a major asset in revitalizing the downtown area.

As a result, the city didn’t pinch pennies. They built a great facility, featuring a domed stage and elevated, concrete benches capable of seating 25-hundred.

Fort Pierce’s motto at the time appears to have been, “If we build it, they will come.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t!  

Oh, there was the initial flurry of activity immediately after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but then reality began to set in. Using the facility could be a chancy proposition. It seemed almost every time someone scheduled an event, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Rain was the biggest problem, but baking in the sun - particularly coupled with Florida’s high humidity - wasn’t much fun for audiences either.

It wasn’t long before Fort Pierce’s amphitheater was seldom used, at least officially.  

Unofficially, it became a great place for the homeless to sleep…and relieve themselves.  

And the teens loved it, because seldom was there a responsible adult anywhere in sight.

Skateboarders were crazy about the steeply sloped, concrete aisles.  

“Potheads” found it convenient for, shall we say, other recreational activities.   

It took about 50-years, but Fort Pierce finally gave up on its amphitheater altogether and consigned it to the wrecking ball.  

Now don’t get me wrong. In my opinion, all of Suwannee County, not just Live Oak, could benefit from the construction of some form of audience-friendly performance facility; something with a nice stage, dressing rooms, good acoustics, comfortable elevated seating and perhaps most importantly, a roof.

But building something like an amphitheater, which is so dependent on the goodwill of Mother Nature, just doesn’t seem to make good sense.

Jim lives in Live Oak.