MONONGAHELA – A once-dead riverfront stage in Monongahela was transformed into a popular concert destination on Saturday nights this summer.
Nearly 2,800 people jammed Noble J. Dick Aquatorium, and some 130 boats dropped anchor there Saturday for a performance by The Clarks, a Pittsburgh-area rock band, said Claudia Williams, a local businesswoman and an organizer of the events.
“The aquatorium has turned into the happening place to be,” said Chad DeSantis of Monongahela, who volunteers at the stage along the Monongahela River.
That wasn’t the case in 2011, when the 46-year-old outdoor venue was deemed unsalvagable by the Washington County Redevelopment Authority. The seats and the concrete superstructure were crumbling from years of being battered by high water and debris from flooding on the river.
Crime was on the increase in the area eight years ago, too, when it wasn’t uncommon for people to find used heroin needles discarded in its parking lot.
The city and authority opted to invest nearly $1.8 million to install new seating, build a comfort center and make numerous other improvements to the park at the aquatorium. Today, the aquatorium is credited with helping the city’s downtown remake itself, Mayor Bob Kepics said.
“It is nice,” said Tish Cardis of Monongahela.
“It was like the Fourth of July there Saturday,” she said. “There wasn’t a parking space to be found.”
Williams said concert tickets sales nearly doubled since last year, when the first summer concert series hit the stage for the first time in four decades.
Another concert this summer drew a large crowd that resulted in a long line of people down a sidewalk waiting for a table in a nearby restaurant, Williams has said.
She said it has taken a while “to get the word around” about the concerts. She said a recent grant from the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency helped to advertise the events.
The management group, Aquatorium Innovations, introduced an alligator pool toy as its mascot this summer, and it was carried around for promotion by a Washington County commissioner and state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll.
The promotions helped to draw nearly 100 calls from bands interested in performing on the stage next year, Williams said.
“The variety is drawing different people from different places,” she said.
“My volunteers are amazing,” she said.
The final Aug. 26 performance by Nashville country artist Sydney Hutchko will be free as a show of appreciation to the fans of the aquatorium, Williams added.