Strolling periodically through Lake Harriet Park, Richard Brozic noticed that the roof of the band shell had become increasingly derelict over the last few years, with dark cavities where numerous wood shingles have rotted and fallen off. He worried that by neglecting regular maintenance, a relatively easy patching job would grow into a complex and expensive re-roofing project for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
"Lake Harriet, of all the Park Board amenities that they have, that is a very visible one," said Brozic, who has lived and worked near the park for years. "My concern is there's misplaced priorities. You would think maintaining a fixed asset would be an important and cost-effective way of taking care of business."
Park staff said they are well aware of the problems, and though the entire park system has capital needs, repairs are on the way.
The Lake Harriet Band Shell and pavilion are heavily used in the summer, with concerts most days of the week running Memorial Day through Labor Day. The deterioration of the architecturally significant structures, designed by Milo Thompson and built in 1986, was a sore subject during the recent Park Board elections. One candidate sent mailers depicting the missing shingles while others running for southwest Minneapolis' Sixth District seat invoked the band shell as one of the more prominent examples of the Park Board failing to maintain its assets.
Sixth District Commissioner-elect Cathy Abene said the Lake Harriet Band Shell is one of the first issues she plans to dig into when she takes office in the new year.
"I don't know really at this point where I would suggest the money comes from, but we need to start to try to plug those holes to the best of our ability," she said. "They're running it to a point of failure and if it continues to deteriorate, they're going cause problems on the interior of the structure."
About 15% of the band shell's cedar shakes are missing or damaged from wear and tear over 35 years, said Cliff Swenson, the Park Board's director of design and project management. The steep slope of the roof helps prevent water from sitting in place, but the rustic wood shingles still need to breathe in order to forestall rotting. The roof needs to be replaced.
"People are concerned about the pavilion and band shell. Staff are too, and staff understands the iconic nature of the facility and we want to do our very best to maintain it," Swenson said. "It just takes the time that it takes to do this right."
This summer, Thompson's architectural firm, Bentz Thompson Rietow, conducted a quick review of the Lake Harriet Band Shell and pavilion. Based on its report, the park staff recommended contracting a roofing company to do "destructive testing" in which workers would scale the roof, take off the cedar shakes and inspect the substrate beneath.
That's scheduled to take place before Thanksgiving, Swenson said. The Park Board expects to have a full assessment by early January, followed by a construction bidding process. Bentz Thompson Rietow estimated reconstruction costs will range from $1.2 million to $1.5 million, including disability access upgrades to bring the bathrooms up to code.
The hope is to have all the work completed next year, Swenson said.
The Lake Harriet Band Shell and pavilion are within the regional park system. Unlike neighborhood parks, its funding sources include the Metropolitan Council and park enterprise funds. If expenditures exceed $1.5 million, construction may need to be phased.
In recent years, other large-scale projects throughout the sprawling regional park system had to compete for the same pool of money. Those underway or completed include renovating fire-damaged bathrooms at North Mississippi Regional Park, realigning the golf course at Theodore Wirth, constructing a new Mississippi River island at Above the Falls Regional Park, fixing the Chain of Lakes' Kenilworth Channel and planning a new Bde Maka Ska pavilion.
"We take what we do very seriously and we work very hard to maintain all of our park amenities across the system," Swenson said. "What we're trying to do from an equity standpoint is really make sure that we're serving all residents of the city and, and of course, preserve our icons."
In 2004, developer Mark McGowan initiated an all-volunteer restoration of the Lake Harriet Band Shell. At the time, dozens of businesses donated equipment and labor, including carpentry, pressure washing and painting totaling $650,000, McGowan said.
If asked again, the community would step up to help the Park Board defray the costs of restoring the band shell, and free up public funds that could be spent in other parts of the system, he said.
"The people in southwest Minneapolis in a heartbeat, if they believe that if there was going to be another Lake Harriet Band Shell restoration, the community would support it and businesses would support it in a nanosecond," McGowan said.