Residents come together to revive Sedona Cultural Park

Tim Perry
8 Min Read

A group of Sedona residents have begun organizing an effort to revive the Sedona Cultural Park as a performance venue.

The group has incorporated as the Sedona Cultural Park 2.0 and is in the process of applying for nonprofit status with the goal of entering a public-private partnership with the city to build out and manage an amended version of the park’s existing master plan.

The group’s draft mission statement calls for it to “promote the successful reestablishment of the Sedona Cultural Park amphitheater as a vital performance venue for Sedona and the greater Verde Valley. Development of the arts village will be integrated into the plan.”

“We need to study how to save the taxpayers’ money while saving the Sedona Cultural Park and providing for future housing needs,” SCP 2.0 representative Holly Anderson said in a statement. “The music business has drastically changed over the last 21 years as well; artists today make their money from touring, no longer from album sales. Restoring the amphitheater creates a nucleus for other arts and cultural buildings to grow from.”

Roughly three dozen volunteers are involved in the planning effort so far, most of whom represent local hospitality businesses, arts organizations and professional firms. The current board of the new organization includes Chris Ford, Ben Miller, Chris Seymour and Herb Tiffany.

Ford, the newest of the group to Sedona, was previously business director at Pixar Animation Studios, where he was in charge of the studio’s RenderMan software development, and was also the project manager for the Maya software package at Autodesk. In addition, Ford has served on the board of directors for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and currently sits on the advisory board for Lowell Observatory.

“I would love to see this venue become what it really should be,” Ford said. “The amphitheater is the nucleus.”

Ben Miller, whose family built the Miller Brothers Building adjoining the Sedona Cultural Park, was the president of the Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival, which played its last show in 2011 during challenging economic times and has been dormant since then, but is now poised for a comeback.

“We’ve been contemplating coming back for a few years now, but then COVID hit,” Miller said. “That obviously made it a bit of a challenge for a few years. We’re tentatively trying to get something together for October 2024 … We were thinking about going in a little bit different direction anyway, and now we’ve come full circle to where we’re really excited about — moving forward, it’s really going to be all about the youth and youth music education in and around the Sedona area. We’ve got some good interest.”

“We had some events there in the past,” Miller said of the Sedona Cultural Park. “It’s a great facility. Depending on how this all comes together with the Cultural Park and potentially the youth thing, we would love to be a part of that. If we can do the event in October 2024 as part of a rebirth, that would be fantastic. We’ll see what happens. We’d love to be able to have it there.”

Seymour was a member of the Cultural Park’s board of directors at the time the original nonprofit negotiated the land swap for the park property with the U.S. Forest Service. During an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute session, Seymour suggested crowdfunding the park’s restoration and explained that the lack of professional management and committed sponsorship, rather than public objection or indifference, were the main factors in the park’s bankruptcy.

Tiffany is the head of Tiffany Construction, Arizona’s oldest family-owned construction firm, which did much of the work on the Cultural Park and has handled numerous projects for the city of Sedona in past years.

“I’m excited to see something happen with that property finally,” Tiffany said.

Anderson cited the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver and the St. Augustine Amphitheater in Florida as examples of successful publicly-owned outdoor arts facilities. Red Rocks, with seating for 9,525, hosted 1.17 million guests in 2021 and sold $48 million worth of tickets, $14 million of which went to the city and county of Denver.

The St. Augustine Amphitheater, with a capacity of 4,800, comparable to that of the Cultural Park, sold 106,646 tickets between January and June 2022, generating $7.29 million in revenue. St. Johns County estimated the economic benefits of the amphitheater in fiscal year 2022 to be $39.5 million, including ancillary spending, lodging expenses and bed taxes.

At the group’s exploratory meeting on Aug. 1, Stephen Thompson, one of the Cultural Park’s original architects, drew a comparison between the park’s potential to spark a cultural revival in Sedona and the history of the Roman Theatre of Orange in the south of France. Largely abandoned for 15 centuries, the theatre was restored in the 19th century and has since become home to major international music events, revitalizing the commune.

“The amphitheater spawned a town,” Thompson said.

An initial proposal by SCP 2.0 showing how housing can be constructed on a portion of the Sedona Cultural Park site without affecting the potential for restoration of the performance venue and buildout of the arts village. Photo courtesy Jensvold/Thompson Architects.

Thompson and his partner Dan Jensvold met with Sedona Mayor Scott Jablow and Vice Mayor Holli Ploog on Aug. 16 to present SCP 2.0’s initial concepts for the park’s revival, including a proposed 75-unit housing component that could be built on the northwest corner of the property as a short-term housing solution without limiting the possibilities for development of an arts village and venues on the remainder of the site.

“We basically told them that it’s going to go before the community,” Jablow said. “We’re focusing on workforce housing. We don’t know if it’s going to be or not going to be an event venue.”

“I’d have to give that some kind of thought,” Jablow said when asked how a failure to reopen the Cultural Park as a performance venue would align with Sedona’s definition of itself as a “city animated by the arts.”

“That’s just one small topic of art. There’s so many more things that we could be doing,” Jablow said.

Riley Hilbert’s ongoing petition to restore the Cultural Park had accumulated 6,250 signatures as of Aug. 30, up from 4,835 on Feb. 1.

Tim Perry City News,Human Interest,Sedona News,arts and culture,cultural park,jazz on the rocks,live performance,sedona cultural park

2023-09-15 14:00:00 , Sedona Red Rock News

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