Richfield resident David Butler has loved bands — and band shells — for nearly nine decades.
“I’ve had band shells in my background all my life,” said Butler, 88, recalling a stint directing his first-grade rhythm band.
Butler, a clarinet player, has been trying to build a band shell in Richfield’s Veterans Park for five years. He’s helped raise $205,000 for the project and weathered criticism, funding woes and rejection of a previous site as too marshy to support a band shell without costly structural support.
“I think that band shells are community builders, and it would make a great amenity, another gathering place,” said Jim Topitzhofer, Richfield’s recreation director.
But not everyone is eager to hear the sound of music.
From day one, a group of residents has voiced concerns that a band shell in 108-acre Veterans Park would drive off wildlife, result in too much noise and traffic and duplicate an existing picnic pavilion that could host concerts.
“It’s a lot of money for something we already have,” said resident Kimberly Andros.
“We have appealed to the city over and over in many different ways,” said Birgit Johnson, who has opposed the band shell for years. “And we’re being dismissed.”
Last summer, the City Council’s band shell plans stalled at the 11th hour when construction bids came in $60,000 over budget. But the council will vote on a new measure Tuesday with the requirement that a sound study be done in the meantime.
Several city officials said they believe the cement block band shell will be built this time.
“It’s all coming together,” said Butler, also president of Friends of the Richfield Band Shell. “I think we’ve got all the bugs worked out.”
Far from being relics of the past, band shells are often used in the metro area because there are more than 50 community bands, Butler said. Edina, Hopkins, Bloomington and Minneapolis each have one.
Richfield, on the other hand, has a cement slab in Augsburg Park. Butler said the community deserves better.
So it’s planning a 46-by-30-foot structure that will cost $530,000, with the city kicking in $325,000 and the balance coming from the community; another $15,000 needs to be raised, Butler said. An earlier plan had proposed a bigger band shell at a cost of $1 million.
The band shell would be built near the ice arena, 154 feet from a nearby wetland. Though the new location is farther from the wetland than in previous plans, many residents are troubled by the potential environmental impact.
“I’m not a band shell hater,” Johnson said. “I just think it’s sad to turn green space into brown space.”
Topitzhofer said Veterans Park is a community park, not a nature preserve, and its bathroom facilities and ample parking make it perfect for shows.
In a letter from the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, President Jerry Bahls said nearly 200 bird species have been seen in Veterans Park, which he called a “remarkable” number. Migratory birds and wetland dwellers “would be disturbed by the sound and traffic from a band shell,” he said.
But Butler said no one has produced evidence that birds will be affected. “When you look at other band shells in the state … the birds adapt to whatever is going on in your urban community,” Council Member Edwina Garcia said.
Johnson organized a petition signed by 1,200 residents who oppose the band shell, but she said it hasn’t swayed council members.
And Steve LaVictoire said he’s not done fighting City Hall.
“Your voice should count, and in Richfield it just doesn’t,” LaVictoire said.