McGrath Amphitheater is set to open Aug. 30.

The McGrath Amphitheater in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is set to mean a lot to the community. Not only will the amphitheater be a place for local acts and larger tours, but it will also serve as a park when the space has a soft opening Aug. 30. The venue also serves as flood protection, as it is designed to take on water should the Cedar River rise again, as it did in the devastating 2008 flood.

“It’s multipurpose. We started out with figuring out how to protect this section of the city, and the idea turned into building a nice amphitheater,” said Gene Felling, VP Western Region for VenuWorks. “The goal of the city is to put together a lot of pieces of the puzzle like this so that the city never has to experience a flood like it did in 2008.”

The venue is owned by the city of Cedar Rapids, but operated by VenuWorks, which also operates the city’s U.S. Cellular Center and Paramount Theater, as well as the convention center.

The earthen levy provides a good spot for seating, and some government funding was provided to build the venue since it will be key in future flood protection. Also, more than $2 million was raised from the private sector.

Sasaki Associates, an architectural and planning firm that does lots of work on riverfront and waterfront redevelopment, designed the riverfront amphitheater project.

“It’s a harsh environment, but we work with the grading and the topography,” said Sasaki’s Managing Principal Jason Hellendrung. “In Cedar Rapids, the ground elevation is roughly at 100-year-flood,” meaning that it’s at such a height where there is a one percent probability of flooding in any given year.

“It has to be engineered to withstand that,” said Hellendrung. “They’ll look at events and the revenue created as potential for these facilities to break even, or even make some money, while supporting elements help to activate and create a vibrant downtown.”

McGrath Amphitheater during construction.

The building is designed to withstand floods and protect the city of Cedar Rapids, should the Cedar River rise again.

“It’s a great venue from a quality-of-life standpoint for Cedar Rapids,” said Corbett. “Having local concerts and use as a park, while also having regional events will be great for the city, as well as providing protection.”

“It was designed so any flood damage to the actual facility would be minimal,” added Corbett.

Costs for the project reached just more than $8 million, with $1.6 million coming from the I-JOBS grant set up to help Iowa recover from and prevent natural disasters after 2008’s flood.

With construction costs covered by a combination of funding sources, the next step was to look at ongoing costs associated with the venue. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said that though maintenance costs for the amphitheater won’t be as much as other area venues, there will still be costs.

Enter the McGrath Automotive Group. The McGrath family has had several auto dealerships in and around Cedar Rapids for many years. The group has signed a five-year contract for the naming rights to the amphitheater at a cost of $75,000 per year.

“It certainly is a great deal. The McGrath family has been doing business in the Cedar Rapids area for decades, and for them to step up with a long-term contract is wonderful,” said Corbett.

“There’s an opportunity to extend the contract for three more years, with the rate adjusted for inflation” to $79,590, he added.

Felling said that Pat McGrath, of McGrath Automotive Group, visited U.S. Cellular Center during construction, but naming rights had already been sold.

“He was very interested in the outdoor lifestyle of the amphitheater and thought it would be a good fit,” added Felling. “The McGraths really wanted to return something to the community, so after several discussions, we came to a deal.”

Funds from the naming rights sponsorship will be put toward ongoing maintenance costs for the facility.

“The McGrath families are great members of the community,” added Corbett. “We’re just happy to have our name associated with their name.”

Interviewed for this story: Ron Corbett, (319) 286-5051; Gene Felling, (319) 730-6207; Jason Hellendrung, (617) 926-3300