Richfield bandshell construction beginning this month

A campaign full of fits and starts was finally triumphant July 25 when the Richfield City Council accepted a bid for the Veterans Park bandshell project.

The city awarded the project to Fendler Patterson Construction, which came in as the lowest bidder at $376,821.

The winning bid came after two previous attempts this year failed to find an affordable builder – once due to a contractor’s clerical error that meant a bid was too good to be true, and once due to a subsequent low bid that came in over budget. Offers made during a bidding round in 2015 were also too costly.

But the bid from Savage-based Fendler Patterson fell within the project’s $538,545 budget. The timing of the bids helped secure a lower offer, Richfield Recreation Director Jim Topitzhofer said.

“I think timing has a lot to do with pricing, so this was the right timing for that particular contractor,” Topitzhofer explained to the Sun Current. Fendler Patterson is also working on an addition to Cedar Point Commons less than a mile to the east of Veterans Park, Topitzhofer noted.

On top of the money for the contractor, the rest of the funding pool has already been spent on architectural fees, soil testing, sound testing and civil engineering – plus a 5 percent contingency reserve of $18,821.

What was initially envisioned as a $1 million project was downscaled as it became clear fundraising would fall short of that goal, even with a $325,000 contribution from the city. A nonprofit called the Friends of the Richfield Band Shell was formed to raise further funds, having pledged $146,056. Also, the city raised $67,000 in private contributions during an initial fundraising drive.

Mayor Pat Elliott praised the project backers who “invested an enormous amount of time, energy, money and pedometer miles through this city approaching people, raising funding to get this project to this stage.”

Elliott made that comment after voting in October against hiring a construction manager for the project, expressing concern that the Friends group’s pledges weren’t guaranteed. Elliott said his sentiment changed when it became clear in the agreement between the city and the Friends group that the latter would be on the hook for cost overruns or funding shortages.

“Whether or not I can see a bank account or have the money in hand is irrelevant,” he explained to the Sun Current, “because the agreement now commits the Friends to contribute the money they stated they have.”

The city council voted previously to prohibit any additional municipal dollars beyond the $325,000 contribution.

A new community gathering place, opposed by many

“I’ve always felt that a bandshell here would be a community builder and really something that would really shape the character of Richfield,” Topitzhofer said as he presented the project before the council voted to hire the contractor.

Construction of the bandshell is set to begin this month, with work on the foundation expected complete by November. The project will resume next spring and be finished by late July or early August 2018, according to the timeline provided by Topitzhofer.

The council approved the contractor hire in a 4-1 vote; Councilmember Maria Regan Gonzalez voted no, saying she learned of deep opposition to the project while campaigning in Richfield’s east side Ward 3 last summer. The bandshell will be located on the western border of her ward.

“We covered the east side almost thee times by door-knocking,” and the bandshell issue was the most discussed topic, Regan Gonzalez said.

Those in opposition were not just Veterans Park neighbors but residents across the east side, she added.

“That was something I heard loud and clear from many east side residents,” she recounted.

As part of their arguments, Regan Gonzalez and other bandshell opponents have pointed to the private concert stage that opened this summer on Richfield Lake as part of the Lyndale Gardens development. That new venue, they argued, makes a Veterans Park concert facility redundant.

“A lot of those things that build community, I think are things that we can be doing there,” Regan Gonzalez said.

Her position was in keeping with her predecessor, Tom Fitzhenry, who cited airport noise at Veterans Park as another reason the site isn’t conducive to a bandshell.

Other opponents have voiced concerns about the impact on wildlife in the park. The bandshell was once planned to occupy the southern shoreline of Legion Lake, a favored haunt for bird watchers in the area. But the site was moved closer to the Richfield Ice

Arena when soil samples in the initially preferred location showed an unstable foundation that would make construction costs balloon.

Concerts, church, weddings

The primary use for the Veterans Park bandshell will be Richfield’s summer concert and kids’ entertainment series. It will also accommodate local bands for other concerts, theater performances, church services, weddings and graduations, according to Topitzhofer.

Additionally, the bandshell will be the center of Richfield’s multi-day Fourth of July celebration – one reason supporters preferred the Veterans Park site as opposed to alternatives including Lyndale Gardens, since the space is considered Richfield’s main community park.

“This is an addition that I think we’ll be proud of,” Councilmember Edwina Garcia said, “because it will be the center of the main activities that we do in Richfield, the main celebrations that take place in Richfield. It’s going to bring people together.”

The bandshell will give people a reason to come to the city, Councilmember Simon Trautmann predicted. “One of the things that makes me so excited about this project in particular is making Richfield a destination for people,” Trautmann said.

As a gathering place, the bandshell should serve as an antidote to a societal trend of declining interpersonal interaction, in the view of Councilmember Michael Howard. “In some ways in our society these days there’s less of that that happens, less of an ability for folks to gather as a community.”

Plus, the bandshell won’t be a monstrosity, Howard said.

“I really do think this is a modest bandshell. This isn’t U.S. Bank Stadium at Veterans Park,” he said.

The funds pledged so far to the bandshell only cover the basics. The Friends group plans to continue raising funds to eventually cover the following upgrades: Trattino-finished concrete, decorative metal accents, composite panels that would hide the ceiling, and an anti-graffiti coating for exposed walls and doors.

So the work of bandshell proponents is far from over. “Their sleeves are still rolled up,” Garcia said.

As an additional fundraising measure, a pathway from the Ice Arena Parking lot to the bandshell will include bricks that can be purchased for personal engravings. With additional dirt expected to be necessary for construction, Topitzhofer plans to use earth excavated in construction projects around the city to further reduce costs.

Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @RISunCurrent.