Usually when something’s happening in Clayton, it’s happening in Town Square. So that’s why it was so surprising when former town manager Steve Biggs recommended the Town Council look elsewhere to build a permanent stage.
The one-acre downtown park hosts everything from summer concerts and outdoor movies to Christmas tree lightings, and the square anchors just about every festival held in Clayton.
This year, Clayton made some changes to the park for its annual summer concert series, taking out some trees and centering the temporary stage so it faces Main Street. Back in February, when the changes were laid out, planning director David DeYoung said this could lead to a permanent stage built in the park.
But months later, when Biggs presented his budget, he said the downtown concerts and other events were beginning to outgrow Town Square and that it could be short-sighted to commit to building a stage there now. He instead pointed to a possible reconfiguring of Municipal Park or looking elsewhere in town.
That argument apparently proved unpersuasive. Mayor Jody McLeod said he believed the council would likely build any permanent stage downtown, saying overgrown or not, the park is tied to some of Clayton’s most prized traditions.
“We wanted to have a permanent stage for the the concert series and tree lighting,” McLeod said. “Looking at other areas might have been a good idea, but this is a downtown concert series. We want to have a permanent space located in an alive downtown. Whether that’s Horne Square or Town Square, we’ll have to figure that part out.”
McLeod said the stage is something that will likely come up during a council retreat in the fall, but not before then.
Two of the five downtown concerts this summer are already in the books, drawing crowds large enough to cover most of the park, which also gives space to inflatables, vendors and food trucks. Last month’s performance by Southern Culture on the Skids packed the park. McLeod said the slightly different configuration seems to be working.
“It’s been phenomenal,” the mayor said. “It’s nice to have all the food trucks in one spot, with the stage centered. I’ve heard a lot of nice feedback.”
DeYoung, who organized this summer’s concerts while serving as interim downtown development coordinator, echoed the mayor’s thoughts on where any future stage should be.
“I think the concert series was created as a downtown event and needs to remain downtown,” DeYoung said. “The changes (this year) have been well received and are definitely working out. We continue to tweak things as we see a need or recognize a beneficial change.”
Early renderings of the future park near the Neuse River show space for an amphitheater or concert venue, signaling perhaps that’s where Biggs saw the town’s concerts going. McLeod said the plan for that space is even larger, more akin to the Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary.
“That’s going to be a sizable investment for us,” McLeod said. “A place for larger events, where you’ve got to control the flow of traffic and get people in and out. It’s the perfect spot for longevity.”
Clayton aims to pay for the proposed river land park through a bond, which the council decided last month to push to 2017.
The next installment of Clayton’s summer concert series is Thursday. July 21, when former Chairmen of the Board member Ken Knox and Co. will perform at 5:30 p.m.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson