Users of the band shell in Riverside Park were pleased with an initial concept for a performance platform, but during an informational session on Tuesday that detailed the city’s plans to rehabilitate the structure, they said an acoustic shell would improve the acoustics of the nearly 90-year-old facility.
The city allocated $1.14 million last year to renovate the band shell — originally built in 1930 as a speaker's podium, modified in 1986 and used today for entertainment throughout the warm-weather months — instructing the parks and engineering departments to begin the process for getting the structure up to snuff as soon as possible.
Michael Swinghammer and Clint Rasmussen of River Architects of La Crosse, who have been hired by the city to oversee the design, said their concept pays tribute to the historic nature of the bandstand, maintains its current footprint and adds a ramp for greater accessibility.
“It’s really been an icon for the city for many years and many years to come. It’s a jewel in the park, and we want to make sure that when this building is redone, we want to redo it correctly,” Swinghammer said.
The project also would include electrical work and could include a light or sound systems; however, those plans have yet to be finalized.
Representatives of several outdoor concert and recreation groups — including Moon Tunes, La Crosse Concert Band and La Crosse Jazz Orchestra — were invited to the meeting to share their perspectives.
Abbie Leithold-Gerzema, La Crosse Concert Band board member, said she liked the initial ideas but said more could be done to protect performers from the elements and help direct sound to the audience.
“This looks great. This answers a lot of requests from the La Crosse Concert Band about extending the stage and making it handicapped-accessible, but as a consortium, we really would like some sort of acoustical shell. Even if it’s not a complete roof, it’d have to be acoustical,” Leithold-Gerzema said.
She said she understood that goal could be difficult as the city struggles to preserve the historic elements of the band shell while avoiding a disruption of the floodway to meet state and federal requirements.
Terry Bauer of Valley View Rotary Club, the group that organizes the summer concert series Moon Tunes, said his organization already has been collecting donations to improve the facility.
“From our standpoint — the consortium of users — we wanted to support parks and rec by providing more of a complete band shell, conceptually, and we’re willing to provide some community fundraising to support that,” Bauer said.
Bauer asked whether the architects could work with city staff and the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission to come up with a concept that he could show to potential donors.
Plans call for work to start in the fall after the final Moon Tunes performance; however, scheduling the project will be a challenge because the park is used nearly year-round between various concerts and festivals and Rotary Lights.
In the meantime, the city’s parks and recreation department will explore options to ensure it's safe to use this year.