Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Theater Gets State Backing Agency Backs Mayor on Metro Park Plan

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Theater Gets State Backing Agency Backs Mayor on Metro Park Plan

Article excerpt

In what could be an important boost to Jacksonville Mayor John

Delaney's plan to build a 17,000-seat amphitheater in

Metropolitan Park, state recreation officials have approved the

controversial project.

Opponents have long hoped that the state or federal governments

would help block construction of the amphitheater. The state

plays a role because it oversees federal funds that were used to

develop Metropolitan Park in the 1980s.

But Jerry Oshesky, an official with the Florida Department of

Environmental Protection, said yesterday the agency doesn't

think the new amphitheater -- which would host as many as 45

paid events a year -- would reduce public access to the park, as

opponents argue.

Also, Oshesky said the agency agrees with Delaney's position

that the project is largely an upgrade of the park's

deteriorating bandshell. Opponents have said it is a new

facility that would change the use of the park.

The state's action caught opponents off guard.

Jan Miller, president of the opposition group Citizens for

Amphitheater Awareness, traveled to Tallahassee yesterday to

discuss the issue with Environmental Protection Secretary

Virginia Wetherell only to find out when she arrived that the

decision already had been made.

"I'm angry and upset," Miller said. She said she arranged the

meeting after Christmas -- days after the ruling had been

rendered -- and was never informed of it.

Miller said she is planning to go to Atlanta on Thursday to

meet with officials from the National Park Service, which could

challenge the Department of Environmental Protection's decision.

The Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to the

National Park Service on Dec. 23 notifying it of the decision.

Edwolyn Dooley-Higgins, a Park Service official who has

overseen the project, said yesterday she is waiting to receive

documents that would help explain the Department of

Environmental Protection's decision. She said it is unclear when

the Park Service will finish its review.

Susan Wiles, Delaney's chief of staff, said the state's ruling

certainly is welcome, but she was careful not to overemphasize

its importance. …

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