Richfield commits more money to a smaller band shell project

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune staff writer
  • Updated: July 22, 2014 - 2:40 PM

Project gets scaled back, but opponents say it isn’t needed and would damage a park.

Determined to finish what it started, the Richfield City Council has committed another $75,000 to a controversial project to build a band shell in Veterans Memorial Park, bringing the city’s investment in the project to $325,000.

The council’s move came on a split 3-2 vote as plans for the $1 million to $1.2 million project were scaled back. Band shell supporters said they could not meet a $750,000 fundraising goal, and the project budget is now set at $400,000.

Resident opposition to the band shell has been mounting. More than 700 people have signed an online petition against the project, and several residents voiced concerns at a recent council meeting.

“We the majority who disapprove of further development at Veterans Memorial Park urge you to please retain the open space at our park,” said Birgit Johnson. “We believe it needs proper maintenance and upkeep, not more amenities.”

Carol Propotnik told the council she walked the July 4th Richfield parade route with an anti-band shell sign and did not receive a single negative comment.

“I firmly believe that as elected officials, this is not a vote-getting proposition and you are not on the winning side,” she said. “Why take even more green space to pour concrete?”

Music lovers in Richfield have long pined for a band shell. The city’s summer music programs now rotate from park to park, with musicians usually perched on chairs on open concrete slabs. But opponents say a band shell isn’t needed when a performance space is already part of the redevelopment at Lyndale Gardens. And they say Veterans Memorial Park, a birding hot spot, doesn’t need more development.

Rick Jabs, chairman of the city’s band shell task force, said the performance area at Lyndale Gardens will be a platform, not a stage, and that the city would be charged for its use.

Jabs’ group originally hoped to raise $500,000 from foundations and $250,000 from individuals and businesses. But he said they discovered that foundations are more likely to give money to operate than to build a band shell.

The task force raised $75,000 from individuals, meaning that with the city’s commitment of $325,000 the project is fully funded.

Jabs told the council that the increased city support was necessary to ensure that construction on the band shell begins next spring. The city’s donation will come from 2015 municipal liquor store profits.

Three of the five council members were happy with plans for a less grand band shell. Mayor Debbie Goettel said Hopkins had built a modest, attractive structure within Richfield’s new lower budget. Edwina Garcia and Sue Sandahl agreed that it will be easier to raise money once the band shell is built.

“One of the difficulties is that at this point, we don’t have a visual,” Sandahl said.

She said the small size of the band shell stage — roughly 35 by 40 feet — represents less than 4 percent of an acre.

“The city has over the years added land to our parks,” she said. “We don’t let parkland go for nothing. I think this will be a great benefit to the community, and once it is built people will like it and use it.”

Council members Pat Elliott and Tom Fitzhenry voted against giving more city money to the project. Elliott said he sensed “a whole lot of neutral feelings in the community” given the weak fundraising. Fitzhenry said it was obvious to him that people don’t want the band shell, and he said he didn’t like the location under the flight path to the airport.

The city hired Minneapolis architectural firm Bentz/Thompson/Rietow (BTR) to do conceptual plans for a covered outdoor performance stage with space for 50 performers and outdoor seating for a minimum of 300 people, with access trails.

Those plans are expected to be done by October. Bids would be let next March, construction would begin in May of 2015 and the band shell would be completed by that September.

BTR has worked on performance stages in Red Wing and Plymouth and has done work on the Lake Harriet Band Shell.

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