Amphitheater at Saint Anthony in the Hills being re-imagined as outdoor events venue04/28/2021 09:28AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The 2,000-seat Greek-style amphitheater at Saint Anthony in the Hills may currently own the signs of dormancy and neglect, but thanks to the ingenuity of an independent group of visionaries, residents may be flocking to The Roman Amphitheater as early as this August to watch movies beneath the evening stars.
On April 26, during their second appearance before the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors, representatives from MPH Events, LLC unveiled their plans to provide extensive renovations to the structure as part of a broad brushstroke that re-imagines it as the future home of film screenings, live performances, school graduations and religious events.
Formed in 2021, MPH Events, LLC is made up of a team of professionals with a combined 65 years of experience in producing and facilitating live events, concerts, festivals and corporate meetings.
In his presentation, John DiEleuterio of MPH Events gave a timeline of the company’s two-phase plan for opening. Upon approval of a lease agreement with the township, the first phase will largely be spent upgrading the venue – repairing the railing and concrete seating areas to meet all code requirements, cleaning the area of debris, installing a temporary stage and providing portable latrines.
Family-friendly movie nights at The Roman Amphitheater – which DiEleuterio said could begin as early as August – will also provide beverages and snacks for sale, and food trucks that will support local organizations.
Phase two of the concept will include the installation of a permanent concert stage, that DiEleuterio said will increase the profile of the amphitheater and provide opportunities to produce more complex live events. In addition, MPH Events proposes to work with the township, local fire companies and the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department to create an effective traffic plan for the venue.
DiEleuterio emphasized that the rate of growth of The Roman Amphitheater will be contingent upon the amount of sponsorships and partnerships MPH Events develops. The key partnership, he said, will be with the township, where the company is asking for a 20-year lease for the amphitheater.
As part of that desired partnership, DiEleuterio said that the company will request that the township support the upgrading of restroom facilities adjacent to the theater, coordinate with local power companies to provide electrical service to the theater; provide ADA-compliant seating; create lighting and pathways from the parking lot to the theater; and supply police and traffic safety and security patrols.
Throughout the presentation, MPH Events representatives assured the township that the company will be in charge of the heavy lifting needed to operate the venue.
Creating a ‘single point of contact’
“If it were up to every organization to book their own trash service and coordinate with fire and police, it would be a gargantuan effort,” said Tom Manchester. “Essentially what we’re doing is creating a single point of contact between the community, the township and its infrastructure. That way, things are scheduled cleanly and it creates a great reflection on the township as well, in the sense that we can create standards such as controlling noise ordinances, in a way that are consistent with community values.
“By putting all of these things in place, we create a safer and consistent event experience, regardless of what contractors or groups are there.”
While the overall concept to revitalize an unused attraction in the township was positively received by the board, several had questions about the cost of providing ADA-compliant seating, infrastructure improvements and parking logistics. Supervisor Michael Loftus balked at the idea of the township entering into a 20-year lease with MPH Events.
“I think we could possibly do a shorter lease,” DiEleuterio said. “We are more than willing to work with the township.”
Supervisor Kristie Brodowski drew attention to another potential snafu -- that the proposed opening of the amphitheater, combined with the projected late May opening of the Splash Surf Club franchise several yards away, would cause an overflow of traffic and congestion.
“I have serious concerns about bringing even more people right now, until we have buttoned up some of the safety issues that we are anticipating in the park,” she said. “I would like to see less traffic in here as much as possible until we can ensure the safety of everyone going in there.
“We as a township need to address some of those concerns before we can entertain any additional traffic.”
At this stage, it’s not just reaching a lease agreement with the township that is foremost on the to-do list for MPH Events. While he was not able to provide an estimate for the projected cost of renovating the theater, DiEleuterio said that the company will raise the funding through sponsorships, grants and community appeals.
“Once we have a lease and ink on paper and this is our project, we will move forward with raising money,” he said. “Because this space is so special, I don’t believe it will be an issue to raise money.”
There is also the issue of repairing a large venue that hasn’t hosted a live event in decades. Jamie Watts of MPH Events said that the company has met with the township’s code manager to review the infrastructure needs, and reinforced that the only major work that needs to be done is to fix the seating and install railing.
“We’re very community focused,” DiEleuterio said. “Saint Anthony in the Hills was built by the community, for the community and we want to keep it that way. One of our main goals is to amplify and honor the aesthetics and history of the space. We would like to educate the community about the history of Saint Anthony in the Hills through oral history and research.
“Another main goal is to provide the surrounding community with increased access to the arts. The amphitheater is an exceptional space and can host a variety of entertainment and cultural events, as a way to bring the arts directly to the community.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].