Central Park’s SummerStage getting $5 million makeover for 2019 season

SummerStage will return for the 2019 season fully equipped with a new stage, sound system, elevated seating and concessions area following a $5 million winter refurbishment.

The seasonal venue that sets up in Central Park from April through October is in dire need of a facelift after more than three decades performances from artists like Steven Tyler and Jason Mraz, the City Parks Foundation says.

“Our stage is 18 years old and it’s not designed to hold the weight of modern touring production,” explains Heather Lubov, the organization’s executive director. “We were at the point where there were some shows we’d have to turn away, which would have been terrible.”

City Parks Foundation decided swapping in a new stage served as the ideal opportunity to tack on several other changes to the temporary venue’s grounds.

“We want to improve the entire venue and the experience for an audience member and an artist,” Lubov says. “When people return (next season), they’ll find a larger stage, meaning we can host larger productions.”

The extensive repairs come courtesy of donations made by three private foundations and a $3.2 million contribution from the New York City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Arnot Brewer. That means SummerStage can get started on its upgrades without compromising the ability to host its annual free-of-charge concert series.

Construction has already begun at an undisclosed location in New York City. Since the venue lacks a permanent location, its new set-up is being mapped out and staged offsite.

Changes include slightly expanding the venue’s seating capacity (seating/standing is currently at 5,500), installing elevated bleacher seating and temporary turf, ditching the 10-year-old sound system and moving concession stands and restrooms away from the performance space.

“When you’re watching a show, you won’t have people walking back and forth to get to one side or the other of the venue. That was really disruptive to fans,” she says, referencing the venue’s current layout. SummerStage will play its last show for the season, Elsie Fest, on Oct. 7.

Artists will return in 2019 to notice dressing rooms (with showers), new lighting and production capabilities and, of course, a new stage.

Next season’s SummerStage talent is still currently being booked, but a remodel of this stature deserves a stacked lineup.

“When we reopen as a refurbished venue, it also happens to be our organization’s 30th anniversary,” Lubov says. “So, we’re definitely going to have to do something celebratory.”