New state funds propelling proposed amphitheater at Riverfront Park, organizer says

A rendering of the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater, slated to be built at Riverfront Park. (Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Salem)

A proposed amphitheater at Riverfront Park is “over the hump,” one organizer said, after landing state money.

Lawmakers gave $1 million to Salem for the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater in a bill that passed near the end of the legislative session. The project’s price tag is estimated to be $4 million. Organizers said they hope to start construction next spring and finish by fall 2020.

Barry Nelson, a Rotary member and co-chair of the amphitheater project, said the new funding brings total funds to $2.6 million.

“We’re thrilled. It was part of our fundraising strategy from the beginning and there were several Rotarian lobbyists who were helping us,” he said. “We weren’t necessarily counting on it, but we were continually hopeful and certainly it makes achieving the end result… much more achievable.”


With $1.4 million left to go in fundraising, Nelson said there is more momentum for the project now that it has half of the total project cost in the bank. He said Rotary is more eligible for grants and can make a stronger case to would-be donors.

“From a psychological perspective, (it allows for) better conversations with prospective donors who see the end in sight, and know they are going to be part of something successful — rather than taking a chance,” he said.

The proposed amphitheater will showcase movies, music and more at the park. It is designed to resemble the woven baskets of the Native American Kalapuya tribe that once occupied the site, the rotary said in March.

The amphitheater is named in part after prominent Salem resident Gerry Frank. Frank inherited the now-defunct Meier & Frank chain of department stores and spent decades working with former U.S. Sen Mark Hatfield. He has also been active in several local and statewide organizations.

Other local projects also received state funds in the same bill.

The River of Peace Mosiac, a 60-foot mosaic owned by the YMCA, received $100,000 for preservation. And Liberty House of Salem garnered $250,000 for services to help child victims of abuse.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.