Richfield is officially supporting the construction of a band shell in order to help secure donor support.
Following a consultant’s completion of a feasibility study, the Richfield City Council unanimously approved an endorsement of the proposed outdoor concert venue during its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 12. The blessing is meant to help the Richfield Band Shell Committee assure a “potential major sponsor,” as described in a city staff report prepared for the council meeting, of the project’s viability.
That donor was not named in the staff report and the city has declined to disclose the potential sponsor, but the chair of the band shell committee, David Butler Jr., said in October during a study session for the project that they were in talks with Best Buy for a sponsorship deal.
The “major sponsor” has said it would consider donating $75,000 to the band shell project, which as yet has no specified location. Talks have centered on Veterans Memorial Park, at East 66th Street and Portland Avenue, as a likely site.
Also, a possibility exists for a cooperative concert-space arrangement between the city and the company that is redeveloping the vacant Lyndale Garden Center site, according to Jim Topitzhofer, director of Richfield Recreation.
Based on feedback from would-be donors, the feasibility report recommended that the planners scale back their initial vision for the project. A $1 million dollar price tag was discussed as a possibility during the October study session, but the consultant’s study suggested residents would not support a project of that scale.
Residents would instead be more amenable, the study’s report suggested, to a project with a $550,000 cost ceiling. The city has already committed $250,000 to the project from its own coffers, while the rest would come through fundraising.
Potential donors have indicated they would give a total of $121,600 and the band shell committee may be able to raise a total of $250,000 to $300,000, according to the report. Aside from the $75,000 indication from the “major sponsor,” other individual gifts include a pledge of $15,000, one of $10,000 and several of lesser value.
The indicated funds are part of the community’s “widespread support for the Richfield parks in general, including for the concept of building a band shell,” the study found. The consultant interviewed 21 individuals in assessing that support, after inviting 63 to be interviewed. Interviewees were mainly business, school and community leaders, and included a Best Buy representative.
Although the study found “widespread support” for the band shell, a crowd at a community meeting in November was more evenly split in its support.
One outspoken opponent of the band shell, Birgit Johnson, who lives near the park and has asserted a band shell would sully the venue as a natural resource, said that out of the more-than 50 people she has talked to regarding the project, three said they supported a band shell in the park.
The council’s vote to support the band shell came after Councilmember Tom Fitzhenry requested that the motion be moved from the consent agenda, where the city council approves routine or simple matters without deliberation, and be placed on the main agenda to be discussed.
Concerned residents had called him regarding the proposed project under the impression the council would be voting to finalize the band shell’s location, Fitzhenry said. The vote was only to voice official support for the project.
The study’s report also outlined some concerns over the band shell voiced by interviewees. The most consistent concern, according to the report, was how well used the facility would be, considering the availability of other band shells in the area. There are already band shells at Edina’s Centennial Lakes Park and at Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis.
The study found a weak appetite for the $1 million facility that was initially considered after discovering that “most interviewees think the cost seems quite high, and emphasized that Richfield is not a ‘showy’ city that needs an extravagant band shell.”
The report quoted several of those interviewed. “We are not a fancy community,” one respondent said, “but there will likely be good support for something modest.”
Modesty was also the theme of another comment. “I do talk to my neighbors about (the band shell) occasionally,” the commenter reported. “My sense is that we’re not ready for something big and grandiose, but rather for maybe 100 people or so.”
Aside from costs related to initial construction, the consultant also told the city that interviewees raised questions about the price of ongoing maintenance.
Airport noise over Veterans Park has been another concern, but the report called the noise impact “insignificant.” Topitzhofer had explored hiring another consultant to conduct a noise study, but has backed off that plan.
Instead, Richfield’s current summer concert program, which normally takes place in Augsburg Park, will be moved to various locations to test noise interference, Topitzhofer said.
There is much work still to be done in evaluating the band shell’s feasibility, according to the study. The city ought to look at other band shells to learn how long it took to ramp up usage at those sites, and also at how programming would be determined, the consultant suggested.
The city also ought to clarify the aim of another project before building a band shell, the report says. A developer plans to turn the vacant Lyndale Garden Center site, just north of West 66th Street and Lyndale Avenue, into a bustling commercial venue and community gathering space called Lyndale Gardens, which would include an outdoor concert facility.
Those plans are still in their formative stages and the scale of the planned concert space there is unclear. Some who have questioned the city’s wisdom in building its own concert site have noted the Lyndale Gardens plans as an argument against a city-owned band shell, saying a concert venue at the development would already meet the community’s needs.
In hopes of evaluating potential band shell sites, Richfield’s weekly summer concert series this year will take place in a rotating cast of locations that will include Veterans Memorial Park and the under-redevlopment Lyndale Gardens.
Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected]