Oklahoma’s Mega Star Shed

Fifteen years after the project was first proposed – years that included embezzlement, bankruptcy, fraud and an imprisoned mayor – the 12,000-capacity Eufaula Cove Amphitheatre in Oklahoma finally had its first show May 27th.

Cross Canadian Ragweed, Robert Earl Keen and Stoney LaRue performed to a crowd of about 7,000 in a concert that the venue’s owner, Tom Barlow, told Pollstar was "a great success."

It was a long, hard row getting to this point. The shed was proposed in 1992 in an effort to make Eufaula a Branson, Mo.-like travel destination. The $6 million, 28,000-capacity amphitheatre was part of a plan that included an amusement park on a 36-acre tract of land along the shore of Lake Eufaula.

Construction started in 1994 on what would be the Mega Star Entertainment Complex, with $5 million in bonds sold to hundreds of investors around the country.

A year later, construction stopped and in 1997 the Eufaula Industrial Authority filed bankruptcy with $11 million in debt. The shed was built with plenty of surrounding lawn, but no seats.

Troubles weren’t over for the complex as a state audit and criminal investigation found the project’s money woes were connected to fraud and mismanagement involving Eufaula’s mayor.

Former Mayor Joe Johnson was found guilty in 1998 of 10 felony charges including embezzlement, conspiracy and filling a false claim and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Former shed exec Sam Medley testified that Johnson asked him in 1994 to lease a trailer park during construction – a park owned by Johnson. Medley said the land wasn’t needed for the project but he was afraid Johnson would stop approving payments on other Mega Star expenses.

Johnson faced 14 criminal corruption charges, most of them involving the trailer park. Medley was granted immunity to testify.

The Mega Star Amphitheatre and complex was then sold in 2005 to local businessman Don Nichols for $268,000.

The shed sat vacant until Barlow signed a contract to purchase the venue from Nichols this spring. Because he is waiting for the contract to close, he was unable to release the purchase price at press time.

He said his preference is to co-promote or lease the venue to other production companies.

Although the shed’s capacity has shrunk to less than half the proposed size and nobody would mistake the city for the next Branson, things are looking up for the amphitheatre.

Barlow said he plans to feature four to five shows per year. Three shows are being planned for the summer.

While Barlow said the venue’s first concert was great, he added that there’s still a lot of work to be done. When he purchased the venue the stage was 90 percent complete. He said he is looking into putting in some seats as well as revamping the backstage area and possibly adding permanent bathrooms.

Barlow said the city was "just thrilled to death" about the first show.

"The city’s been fabulous," he said. "It’s truly a redemption thing. A second chance. Everyone’s happy that it’s finally worked out."