Naming-rights deal creates McGrath Amphitheater, Cedar Rapids

Amphitheater will double as city park; first local concert set for Aug. 30

Rick Smith
Published: July 3 2013 | 2:03 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:25 am in
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Just as you know the city’s arena and convention center as the U.S. Cellular Center, you will come to know the city’s new riverfront amphitheater as the McGrath Amphitheater, Cedar Rapids.

Pat McGrath, owner with brother Bruce and nephew Mike of McGrath Automotive Group, and Mayor Ron Corbett on Wednesday announced that the McGrath Group has signed a five-year contract with the city to pay $75,000 a year for the naming rights to the new outdoor venue, which will have a "soft opening" with a local concert on Aug. 30.

The naming-rights contract also provides for the option for a three-year extension at $79,590 a year, which would pay the city a total of $613,777 if the contract stretches to eight years.

The money will be used to offset the annual operating costs at the venue, and Sven Leff, the city’s parks and recreation director, said that the annual payment of $75,000 initially will cover all the venue’s expected first-year operating costs.

McGrath and Corbett made the naming-rights announcement at a news conference from the stage of the amphitheater, still under construction, along the Cedar River.

"What a beautiful setting, right at the riverbank, right by the river," McGrath said in comments after the formal announcement.

He said he was being joined on the stage by his wife, Mary Kay, and three generations of the McGrath family. Among the family’s businesses in Cedar Rapids and the metro area are McGrath Chevyland, McGrath Dodge Country, McGrath Buick GMC Cadillac, McGrath Kia, McGrath Powersports and two used car Superstores.

"This is a perfect time and a perfect venue, and we’re excited to partner with the city …," McGrath said in his remarks. "… We hope the five-year contract goes much farther than that. … For our family to get involved is a perfect fit."

Corbett thanked the McGrath family for its current investment in the amphitheater and for what he said was the family’s history of investing in the community.

The mayor noted that the city raised some $2 million in one-time private donations for the construction of the $8-million amphitheater project, but the McGrath investment was a long-term one that would help the city run it without the need to use tax dollars to do it.

Corbett said the McGrath naming-rights deal is the latest such victory for the city, which he noted has had success in signing contracts at the U.S. Cellular Center arena and convention center to help with construction debt and operating costs there.

U.S. Cellular’s contract with the city averages about $380,000 a year for 10 years, while the contract with 7G Distributing LLC for beer and energy drinks there is bringing an average of $155,000 a year for 10 years. The city also is leasing cell-tower space at the venue for $30,000 a year.

"There is an excitement level in the city," the mayor said after the Wednesday news conference. "Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. People are excited about what is going on in Cedar Rapids, and the business community wants to be out in front and support these facilities."

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said a local firm has begun to talk to the city about a naming-rights deal on the city’s Ice Arena, an arrangement that the city has long sought without success.

The city’s Leff said that amphitheater will double as a city park. The first major concert at the venue is slated for next May, he added.

Gene Felling, executive director of the city of Cedar Rapids’ entertainment venues managed by VenuWorks, on Wednesday said that the general admission capacity for the amphitheater is about 4,600. The amphitheater features some seats on permanent risers, though much of the seating will on the amphitheater lawn, which rises from the stage and will serve as a piece of the city’s west-side flood-protection system if and when it is built.

Felling said that amphitheater will attract regional acts as well as up and coming stars and those whose careers had seen their best days.

He suspected that some acts might perform on a Friday night at the Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheater in Des Moines and the McGrath Amphitheater, Cedar Rapids on a Saturday.

Among the acts at the Des Moines riverfront venue this summer are Dwight Yoakam, Brandi Carlile, Blues Traveler, Owl City and Hanson.

Leff noted that the amphitheater along First Street SW features a trail that connects to a second park area along Diagonal Drive SW, newly named Sunner Memorial Park for Bret Sunner, a Cedar Rapids police officer who died in the line of duty in 1984.

For now, the city will bring in portable toilets during events, but eventually, the plan is to have some permanent restrooms and a green room for performers, Leff said.

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