Wall hushes concert noise

Seems the $2.6-million sound barrier at the Ford Amphitheatre works: No complaints were filed after Sunday's show.

Published March 27, 2007

TAMPA -The Who is so loud its guitarist suffers from irreparable hearing loss. The Guinness Book of World Records once listed it as the loudest band of all time.

So what better group to test whether a $2.6-million wall would muffle concert noise at the Ford Amphitheatre and resolve, maybe for good, a long-running legal dispute with Hillsborough County?

If the Who's Sunday night show is any indication, the wall works. Not a single noise complaint was filed with the county or Temple Terrace officials in the first Amphitheatre show since the wall was deemed concert-ready.

"I'm delighted," said Wilson Rogers, the senior vice president of Live Nation, which operates the Amphitheatre. "It was either build a wall or remain in court. I chose to build a wall."

The outdoor venue opened in 2004 along Interstate 4 to mixed reviews. Residents lodged more than 400 noise complaints during the next two years. A subsequent lawsuit cost the county more than $600,000 in legal fees, as it tried to get the amphitheater to comply with noise rules.

In late 2005, the county struck a deal with the amphitheater's operators at the time, Clear Channel Communications. Commissioners voted to delay further legal action if Clear Channel agreed to reduce concert noise by, among other things, building a gigantic sound barrier that would absorb noise.

Clear Channel later spun off its entertainment division into a company called Live Nation. After a number of construction delays, Live Nation completed the 67-foot wall last month. On Feb. 16, county officials received a letter certifying that the wall was ready.

Its first test: the Who.

"If anyone was going to test the wall, it was going to be these guys," said Rick Tschantz, an attorney for the county's Environmental Protection Commission, which enforces noise rules. "It's got to be good news that we haven't received complaints yet."

The county had sound engineers testing sound levels during the concert. So did Live Nation. Those data are being analyzed.

But residents like Billie Morales already detect a big difference.

"I live straight across from the amphitheater, but I didn't even know the Who was over there last night until I let my dog in before dark," Morales said. "And even then, I only heard it when I was outside."

Residents had complained they could hear concerts inside their homes.

"My windows used to vibrate," said Joanne O'Brien, who lives less than a mile away. "I heard the concert last night, but it was tolerable. I don't have a problem with it."

That's music to the ears of Rogers, who said he's especially looking forward to May 19, when Roger Waters will perform. When he we was with Pink Floyd, Waters helped write one of the bestselling albums of all time: The Wall.

"I'm going to try to figure out how to light it up when he sings Another Brick in the Wall," Rogers said. "I'm glad it's working, and I hope going forward our stay in Tampa is going to be good for everyone."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.