Orchestra buys amusement park for new amphitheater site

December 14, 2023, 11:30 PM · The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and its subsidiary Music & Event Management, Inc. (MEMI) announced on Thursday that they will build a $118 million "one-of-a-kind entertainment campus" on the site that has been Coney Island amusement park for more than 125 years, after announcing the acquisition of all the park's assets.

The site is located on the banks of the Ohio River, about 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati. It is also adjacent to Riverbend Music Center, where the CSO performs outdoor concerts during the summer months.

Cincinnati Next Generation Music Center concept art
Concept art for the new entertainment campus in the Greater Cincinnati area, courtesy MEMI.

The $118 million entertainment campus will be designed to complement the existing venues on the live music campus: Riverbend and PNC Pavilion. It is also meant to put Cincinnati on the map, attracting "a wider array of the live music industry’s most sought-after artists," said to Mike Smith, CEO of MEMI.

CSO President and CEO Jonathan Martin said they plan to create "the nation’s best amphitheater."

"We are building a new home for live music events that will offer a mesmerizing fusion of cutting-edge technology and architectural significance,” Martin said. "This new development will usher in the future of the music industry, and we are proud to be leading the next step in the same way Riverbend changed the face of live music in our community 40 years ago when it opened. Now, with CSO’s historic success with Riverbend and PNC Pavilion, we are creating an expanded music, arts and entertainment campus for the region to drive artistic excellence and innovation as well as the local economy."

In a statement published to the park's website, Coney Island said, "Thank you, loyal patrons, for your support over the years. We will miss your smiles and enthusiasm. Every season pass purchased for the 2024 season at Sunlite Pool will be fully refunded. Credit card purchases and payment plan payments will be credited to the card used to make the purchase. Purchases made via cash or gift card will be refunded via check. Payments will be mailed to the address of the passholder."

Opened in 1886 as "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West," the former apple orchard featured a dance hall and bowling alley, adding its Sunlite Pool in 1925. Taft Broadcasting bought Coney Island in 1969 with the intention of rebuilding it on another site - which became Kings Island. The original Coney Island site then reopened, without the rides that had moved to Kings Island, in 1973, headlined by the Sunlite Pool. Coney Island removed its remaining amusement rides in 2019, focusing on its water park.

Plans for the new entertainment campus are still in the works, and a timeline for its construction has not yet been announced.

Another version of this story appeared on Theme Park Insider's sister website, Violinist.com.

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