“Bipartisanship at its best.” $$ for Simsbury Meadows

December 29, 2023

Nearly $1M grant to upgrade CT venue where Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, others played

Hartford Courant

More than five years after town leaders agreed the Connecticut venue that has featured famous acts needs an expansion and modernization, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is giving $900,000 to help make it happen.

The grant will help pay for a permanent restroom building, a green room for performers, new storage for production equipment and other improvements for the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, which bills itself as the state’s second-biggest outdoor theater.

“This is an incredible investment in Simsbury’s downtown economic development,” state Rep. Melissa Osborne said in an announcement of the funding.

The outdoor theater just off Iron Horse Boulevard in the town center has a capacity of up to 10,000 people, and Osborne predicted the upgrades will “help it realize its full potential as a world class entertainment venue.”

The non-profit’s stage has hosted national acts including Willie Nelson and the Beach Boys over the roughly 18 years it has been operating, along with a long series of community concerts, events and fundraisers.

Farmington Valley music enthusiasts consider it one of the cornerstones of the region’s cultural scene.

“Simsbury Meadows is a gem – attracting visitors from throughout the region to experience world-class, unforgettable musical performances as well as family programming, festivals, athletics events, races, and markets,” said Sen. Lisa Seminara, who along with Osborne championed the funding with their caucuses and Lamont’s office.

Town leaders praised both lawmakers for working together, noting Seminara is a Republican and Osborne is a Democrat.

To announce awarding of the money, Seminara and Osborne took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement.

“Thank you state Rep. Melissa Osborne and Sen. Lisa Seminara for bipartisanship at its best,” First Selectman Wendy Mackstutis wrote on her Facebook page after the state Bond Commission authorized the money.

Simsbury Meadows’ bandshell was built in 2005, but a second stage of construction never followed. The non-profit venue’s board of directors has lobbied town government for aid over the past several years to complete the job.
The venue is along a popular rail trail and next to Rotary Park and a dog park, and its directors said the new bathrooms will be open to users of all those facilities as well as show-goers.

Currently the theater uses portable toilets along with a network of rented trailers that provide changing room and per-show lounge space for singers and other performers. The expansion will also create space for theater administrators, multi-purpose rooms, and storage areas for production equipment.

“Our trailers and restrooms aren’t able to accommodate some of the things we need to do,” Simsbury Meadows board member William Clegg told selectmen two years ago.

In a letter to the board of directors, then-First Selectman Maria Capriola said Simsbury was already shouldering a share of other improvements. In one year alone, local taxpayers installed fencing surrounding the property, did $24,000 in repairs for the bandshell and ceiling, and proposed a longer-term plan to pay for $700,000 of parking and accessibility upgrades.

“We are committed to investing in the Simsbury Meadows site,” Capriola said at the time. “In totality, over an approximately two- to-three year period, the town will have invested $810,320.”