$20 million was spent on the restoration of Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y.
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y., is famous for its view of Zach’s Bay — concert goers enjoy a breathtaking view of the Long Island state park known for its pristine beaches and sun drenched boaters.
But when Superstorm Sandy struck the New York City area last October, the 61-year-old theater was severely damaged by millions of gallons of water from the surrounding bay. Floods ripped apart the Theater’s infrastructure, leaving one of New York City’s two outdoor amphitheaters in need of $20 million in repairs.
The destruction from the storm created a rare opportunity for Alan Ostfield, president of North American Concerts North Atlantic Region for Live Nation, which manages the facility. Not only would Ostfield repair the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, he would redesign entire sections of the amphitheater to make it a better fan experience.
“When we first approached this project, we essentially asked ourselves — now that we have the chance to do it over again, what changes should we make to the venue, based on our own experiences running the amphitheater?”
And everything was done without missing a single show — part of an unprecedented collaboration between Live Nation, the New York State Parks Department, insurer Zurich and architects EwingCole.
“It would be impossible for a project of this scope and under this kind of time frame to succeed without the intense collaborative effort between all of the companies and government agencies involved,” Live Nation Architect John Ahrens said. “It shows how much can be accomplished if everyone involved shares the same vision.”
DESTRUCTION AND DEVASTATION
When Hurricane Sandy slammed into Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, it brought with it hundreds of tons of debris and 3 million gallons of seawater.
“The seats were completely covered in water,” Ostfield said. “There was a boardwalk that was moved. There was a whole VIP area that was turned into a swimming pool. We had a box office that was turned into a pool. It was hard to see.”
Debris at Jones Beach Theater following Superstorm Sandy.
The process of fixing up the theater began only days after the storm. Live Nation called their risk management, operations and top architect to the state-owned venue to assess the damage. New York State reportedly fast-tracked the operation.
After crews cleared the water and debris, they finally began reshaping Jones Beach Theater. More than 9 miles of special MCM cable had to be replaced, over 200 main-level doors were replaced and much of the infrastructure was redesigned in an attempt to prevent future damage.
“It was common sense stuff,” Ostfield said. “There’s a huge electrical box that’s the center of the electrical function of the whole venue. It was completely ruined because it was on the first floor. Now it’s on the second floor. We did a lot of things that nobody is going to notice except for us and our insurance company.”
REBUILDING AFTER THE STORM
When the Jones Beach Theater opened in 1952, it was one of the only venues in the country where the stage was separated from the audience by a water-filled moat. The stage itself was actually located in Zach’s Bay and actors and performers would be brought to the stage via boat — some musicals even used additional floating scenery and, during intermission, The Guy Lombardo Orchestra would pass through the moat on a yacht and play tunes while floating in front of the audience.
In 1991, the moat was covered and filled in to make room for more seats. In 1998, the shed was expanded to its current size of 15,000 seats. When Sandy hit, Ostfield said his first priority was to upgrade the artist green rooms, which hadn’t been tweaked in 15 years.
“Jones Beach is a gorgeous place because of its setting, but backstage was old,” Ostfield said. “We had this opportunity to completely redo it. So now we have this catering area backstage that has a huge bay window. It’s the nicest place to get catering in America. We just took advantage of things like that.”
Ostfield also built new concessions stands with upgraded technology, expanded the VIP area by one-third, added new orchestra seating that can partly be removed for a pit area in front of the stage and upgraded the backstage area.
Construction projects took every last minute before opening day with teams still working up until the week of the Rascal Flatts show.
When Rascal Flatts finally took the stage on May 31, Ostfield said he got choked up seeing the theater full again.
“To see the work that went on to put it back together in a better way, to see thousands of people there having a great time like they were was a special experience,” he said.
Live Nation reported having created 225 jobs for local workers, contractors, vendors and union laborers in Nassau County during the rebuild, many of whom lived in the areas hardest hit by Sandy.
Ostfield said last year was the best for Jones Beach Theater since 2002, so Live Nation could not afford to scale back booking and lose momentum.
“You can imagine the questions we were getting in November and December,” he said. “They were saying, ‘why are you booking us in June? You won’t be open in June.’”
There are 33 concerts on the schedule this summer. Rascal Flatts was followed the next day by rap artist Pitbull and pop star Ke$ha. Throughout the summer, acts from many different genres will take the stage including rapper Lil Wayne, folk rock legend Bob Dylan and rock-reggae combo 311.
Interviewed for this story: Alan Ostfield and John Ahrens, (917) 421-4000