The Mill Pond Amphitheater debacle: Once again, Brighton builds a new venue that nobody can afford

The bandshell at the new Brighton Mill Pond Amphitheater.

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We’ve seen this show before in Brighton: They don’t like an old performance venue, so they tear it down and build a new one. And then they jack up the rental fees so that all the groups that used to perform at the old venue can’t afford to perform at the new one.

The moral of the story: Don’t build a new place if nobody can afford to use it!

That’s what happened 24 years ago with the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts. And that’s what’s happening today with the new Brighton Mill Pond Amphitheater.

Back in 1994, the BCPA opened at Brighton High School, and the group that ran the place thought that groups would be falling all over themselves to rent it. So they instituted an absolutely ridiculous fee schedule that included a $2-per-seat surcharge for nonprofit community groups.

(In other words, if you sold 700 tickets for your group’s concert, you’d have to give them an additional $1,400, in addition to the regular rental fees.)

The result: Nobody in Brighton could afford to rent the theater in Brighton.

I was in charge of putting together the Brighton Optimist Club’s Comedy Night fundraiser back in those days, and we had to move our event to Hartland because we would have lost money otherwise. The Brighton Optimist Club couldn’t afford to be in Brighton.

After a couple years of the theater sitting mostly empty, they finally changed the fees and dropped the $2-per-seat charge, and everything was fine.

But it’s been deja vu all over again in recent weeks, as we’ve seen the exact same scenario starting to play out with the new Brighton Mill Pond Amphitheater.

As you might know, the Mill Pond area has been under renovation all summer and fall, as construction has been taking place on a beautiful new amphitheater and bandshell. The City of Brighton Downtown Development Authority decided last year to spend $739,500 to tear down the existing Brighton Kiwanis Club Gazebo and replace it with the new facility.

Their thinking was that a new facility was badly needed for all of the cool community events that take place in downtown Brighton, most especially the Brighton Kiwanis Mill Pond Concerts, which happen every Sunday evening in the summer.

So they tore everything up and spent $739,500 building the new amphitheater, and guess what happened?

The Brighton Kiwanis Club can’t afford to rent it now.

As a result, there might not be any Brighton Kiwanis Mill Pond Concerts next summer.

According to this story by WHMI, the Brighton City Council received a fierce and fiery reaction at last Thursday’s meeting when they unveiled the fee structure for the new venue. The proposed fees are $300 for a half-day’s use and $500 for a full day’s use.

The seating area at the new Brighton Mill Pond Amphitheater.

Dennis Dimoff of the Brighton Kiwanis Club told the council that was way too high, so the council said it would table any discussion of the fee schedule until March.

Dimoff told them that’s too late, because he needs to book the bands now. If he waits until March, all the good bands will be already be booked elsewhere, which will mean no concert series in 2019.

So, to recap: the new amphitheater that was built to accommodate the Brighton Kiwanis Mill Pond Concerts might end up killing the Brighton Kiwanis Mill Pond Concerts.

Great. Just great.

Quite obviously, seeing as how the Kiwanis Club’s concerts are the No. 1 annual draw to the Mill Pond, somebody should have checked with the Kiwanis Club before they started all this. Maybe they did. It sure doesn’t look good, though.

I’m not sure how the fee structure would impact other events that take place downtown, but according to the WHMI story, the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce isn’t happy about it, either.

I stopped by the new amphitheater last week, and it looks beautiful. (Even though there’s a big chain-link fence around it now.) I’m just hoping it doesn’t become a $739,500 white elephant.

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About Buddy Moorehouse 194 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

9 Comments

  1. It seems way over built for what was really needed especially the seating area in the way it’s designed seems kind of stupid to me and also the ugly yellow color which is going to be looking dirty all the time who in the heck picked that color? And why is the ugly fencing still up ?

  2. City Manager, Council and DDA, What are you doing? This is public space of the people, by the people and for the people. Their taxes already maintain this area. Being a former councilperson I certainly understand the need for revenue. I know that municipalities will never recover from the crash of 2008 because of Headlee but this is not the way to add to revenues. Perhaps the MML and Townships organization can go to Lansing and get some of the revenue back from the state that has been reduced so drastically over the last 10 years. Perhaps the companies and other entities in the area that generate a lot of profit in the community can give back. Charging non-profits that put on community events and bring the community together is not the answer.

  3. Sad that City of Brighton wants to charge for the events that bring people to downtown Brighton who tend to spend money at local businesses. Guess they should have thought about that and instead maybe fixed the roads. They should have thought about how to get people in town instead of turning them away. Guess we head to Howell, Milford or Plymouth
    For their concert line ups.
    Brighton isn’t what it used to be

  4. This now and the new, extraordinarily expensive apartment complex on Grand River next, which at the rental rates will never fill in this community. And let’s not discuss the havoc that is going to raise in our city! Please, Please, Please!!!! City Council, City Manager and DDA…what are you thinking??

    • LCCB leadership let band members know that a $300 fee is a nonstarter and if it remains in place, the LCCB will not play at the Millpond.

    • They are a non profit so 300.00 is ridiculously high! Besides why does there have to be a fee? Who gets the money? I enjoy the music it should be free!!!!!

  5. Wonder why the fence is up. I have heard a lot of lame excuses but my guess somebody hasn’t got paid.

What do you think?