St. Augustine Amphitheater has record year

When the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has a packed house for the shows at the venue, the surrounding area sees a windfall of economic impact like at the Elks Lodge 829 just south on State Road A1A.

“We get the overflow,” said Dennis Ball, the chairman of the house committee at the fraternal lodge. The Elks open their parking lot to motorists looking for a place to park when they go to a show at the Amphitheatre.

In an agreement with the Amphitheatre, which is run by St. Johns County, the Elks can charge up to $10 per vehicle to park in their lot. Ball said on a good night, they can accommodate about 250 to 300 cars which can translate into nearly $3,000 that goes to the nonprofit.

The financial benefit from the Amphitheatre on parking is just a small part of the economic uptick that flows into St. Johns County when the 3,900-seat outdoor arts complex fills up for some of the premier acts that perform there, such as The Beach Boys to Bob Dylan to Imagine Dragons and The Moody Blues among others. And in 2013, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre had its best year since it was opened after a major overhaul costing $8.9 million was completed in 2007.

In 2013, 100,146 tickets were sold for the 30 shows at the venue.

“A lot of our ticket sales come from outside of St. Johns County,” said Glenn Hastings, executive director of the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council. “They’re spending in terms of food and beverage.”

Hastings said this week he was just provided preliminary findings from a University of Florida study on the economic impact the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has on surrounding businesses. The study was commissioned by the St. Johns County Commission and cost $63,000.

The data, which are still being analyzed, sampled 906 respondents who attended the 30 events at the facility in the past year and initially it shows people attending shows are far from the traditional tourists that the St. Johns County economy has come to rely on.

About 83 percent of those surveyed said attending a show at the Amphitheatre was the primary purpose for visiting St. Augustine. About 78 percent were on a day trip. About 20 percent were spending at least one night in St. Johns County and the average length of stay for those visitors was five nights, according to the survey. The study showed out of those staying overnight, 60 percent stayed in hotels.

The dollar amounts per stay are also notable, Hastings said, adding he’s still waiting for data from surveys sent to hospitality businesses.

An average “party,” which involves three people or more, spent about $300 on restaurant tabs, $839 for lodging, $473 for car rental and smaller amounts were spent on gas, parking, recreation and additional shopping.

Richard Goldman, executive director of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, said the Amphitheatre has added a new element to the economy.

“The great thing in the past few years is that they’ve improved the interest of the destination for around the region and around the country because of the quality of acts that they’re getting,” Goldman said. “Visitors are coming from outside the market to see a concert of their favorite band or people and they really do travel for those events.”

Goldman, who’s in charge of promoting and tracking visitation trends, said as soon as the announcement of a pending show at the Amphitheatre is made hotels see an immediate impact.

“Their phones begin ringing as soon as the announcements are made” to make hotel reservations months in advance, Goldman said. He added visitors for shows routinely come from Atlanta to Miami and many come from reaches well beyond that because of the setting of the venue in the Nation’s Oldest City.

“They can turn a concert experience into a weekend,” Goldman said. “They could be younger [visitors]. They could be more sophisticated, people who might not fit those other [tourist] areas. We look at it as an additional element to visitation.”

While St. Johns County has embraced the economic impact of the Amphitheatre, other North Florida tourism officials also see it as a gem in the gambit to get more visitors.

Visit Jacksonville CEO Paul Astleford said the regional economic impact of the St. Augustine Amphitheatre is immeasurable. He said his agency is already engaged in cross promotion packages with Nassau and St. Johns counties and the Amphitheatre is often part of the discussion.

“Anytime a product of our Northeast Florida communities has that kind of success, it affects all of us,” Astleford said. “It creates a part of our destination-sell image.”

The Amphitheatre connection to Visit Jacksonville rests on the venue’s unique capacity, Astleford said. Jacksonville already has large venues such as Veteran’s Memorial Arena with a capacity of 15,000, Metropolitan Park which holds 15,000 to 17,000 and the mammoth venue of EverBank Field which can hold in excess of 84,000 people, according to city figures.

And smaller Jacksonville venues such as The Florida Theatre and Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts hold about 2,000 to 3,000 people.

“These kind of facilities end up creating an awareness by the people who are coming here of all of what Duval, St. Johns and Nassau offer to the traveling public and it’s something we’re going to take advantage of, no doubt about it,” Astleford said.

The future of outdoor shows at Metropolitan Park remains uncertain following a series of rock concerts and music festivals in 2013 sparked complaints about noise from surrounding residents. Jacksonville City Council President Bill Gulliford in December suggested the city consider closing the downtown park to music fests and look at building an amphitheater in another area of the city.

Astleford said that sounds like a good suggestion on its face and he’s for competition. But he cautioned anyone pursuing the concept of a new amphitheater in Duval County should weigh the repercussions, especially considering the niche that the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has developed.

“If you build another facility to mirror what St. Augustine has, yes, it might get some additional business and bring in new acts,” Astleford said, adding a thorough market study should be conducted before proceeding. “Whoever is developing it has to know that there are enough of those kinds of acts to justify that kind of facility.

“If there aren’t enough, it not only would hurt the new facility, for example that Duval might build, but it could also hurt St. Augustine’s facility as well,” Astleford said.



Top five acts at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre in 2013

100,146 tickets sold for the year, a record for the facility

1. Bob Dylan, May 5

2. Steely Dan, September 8

3. Imagine Dragons, May 11

4. Alabama, August 9

5. Matchbox 20, March 17

Carriage Way Bed and Breakfast is just a short car ride away from the St. Augustine Amphitheater. Come stay with us and enjoy concerts in 2014 such as Steve Miller band, The Moody Blue, Carlos Santana, and Fall Out Boy.