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Howard Buffett

City Manager Tim Gleason, center, looks on as Howard Buffett unveils plans Monday afternoon to construct a large amphitheater in Nelson Park. The project will be funded completely by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, with city and park district expected to split engineering costs.

UPDATED: 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, 2016

DECATUR — Concert lovers, get ready: A new venue is coming to town.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation will cover the $3.9 million cost of a new amphitheater in Nelson Park, officials announced Monday. The project has been on hold for more than a year after a grant fell through that was meant to pay for part of its construction.

The city and Decatur Park District are expected to share the estimated $400,000 of engineering and professional services.

The announcement is a boon for the Lakeshore Landing lakefront development project, of which the amphitheater is a key piece.

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Buffett and Moore Wolfe

Howard Buffett, left, and Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe speak Monday afternoon after plans to build a large amphitheater in Nelson Park were unveiled.

“This is going to make Decatur the most dynamic city in Central Illinois and probably beyond,” Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said at a news conference held at the site of the project.

In addition, Buffett said he would provide $2 million to extend the train at Scovill Zoo to wrap around the Children’s Museum of Illinois.

“We thought it was pretty cool to get this done,” Buffett said. “One thing I’ve learned through this experience, there’s a lot of people in Decatur that really care about the community and that come together when they need to.

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Amphitheater rendering

This rendering shows a preliminary design for the new amphitheater to be built in Nelson Park next year. 

“This was really an effort by a number of people to get it done. Hopefully, this will really make a big difference.”

The facility will accommodate about 300 people in fixed seating and another 3,000 on the terraced lawn. It will be south of Pavilion No. 1, with Lake Decatur as a backdrop.

Construction is slated to begin in April, with an expected completion date of December 2017.

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Amphitheater viewing

Sarah Conley, office and service manager for the Decatur Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, takes a photo of a proposed amphitheater to be built in Nelson Park.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn visited the city in September 2014 to announce that the state would help pay for the project through a $2 million grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The funding was to be matched by $1.5 million from the Buffett Foundation.

But in January 2015, district officials said the paperwork related to the grant didn’t receive necessary approval from Quinn’s office before Gov. Bruce Rauner took office that month.

A few months later, Rauner suspended all state grants for park district projects, which included funding for multiple other amenities in Nelson Park. The district recently received word that those grants have been released, allowing for the construction of a ropes course, batting cages and more.

So what kind of acts could perform at the new venue? Park district leaders are still working that out, but hope the artists they schedule will attract visitors from nearby communities.

“We’ll have the facility, and then it’s a matter of who can we team up with to partner to bring in big-name artists,” Commissioner Chris Riley said.

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Buffett and Brilley

Decatur Park Board President Bob Brilley II, left, listens as Howard Buffett and others unveiled plans Monday to construct a large amphitheater in Nelson Park.

Board President Bob Brilley II said he would love to see a successful country artist play the amphitheater. He described it as crucial to the overall lakefront development effort.

“It’s big to bring people to Decatur — hotels and motels, gas tax, everything,” he said. “To me, this is one of the biggest projects right now.”

Jerry Johnson, executive director of the Decatur Area Arts Council, said the arts group would provide whatever support it could.

He said the amphitheater would be great for the local arts community because it would be an original venue.

“We have lots of great indoor venues, but a place for people to see a show outside, that’s kind of a unique experience,” he said.


ORIGINAL STORY: 2:40 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, 2016

DECATUR — A large amphitheater for outdoor concerts and events will be built in Nelson Park next year, city and Decatur Park District leaders announced Monday.

The $3.9 million project is being funded entirely by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, with the city and park district expected to split engineering costs. The amphitheater will be located south of Pavilion No. 1, with Lake Decatur as a backdrop for performances.

“This is going to make Decatur the most dynamic city in Central Illinois and probably beyond,” Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said at a news conference held at the future site of the project.

In addition, Buffett said the foundation would provide $2 million to extend the train at Scovill Zoo to wrap around the Children’s Museum of Illinois.

“We thought it was pretty cool to get this done,” Buffett said. “One thing I’ve learned through this experience, there’s a lot of people in Decatur that really care about the community and that come together when they need to.

“This was really an effort by a number of people to get it done. … Hopefully, this will really make a big difference.”

Buffett had previously pledged $1.5 million for the amphitheater, which was to be matched by a $2 million state grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The grant fell through due to an apparent failure by former Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration to sign off formally on the money he promised during a visit to Decatur in September 2014.

The amphitheater is a major component of the park district’s Nelson Park lakefront development plans, dubbed Lakeshore Landing by officials.

The facility will be able to accommodate about 300 people in fixed seating and another 3,000 on the terraced lawn.

This story will be updated.

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Regional Editor

Regional editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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