Despite expected pushback, Volunteer Park Trust moves forward on design of new amphitheater

Settle down — these aren’t the final designs or even designs at all. These are some inspirational examples included in the Volunteer Park Trust presentation on the project. The full presentation can be found at the bottom of this post. (Images: Volunteer Park Trust)

Representatives from the community group Volunteer Park Trust didn’t run into too many surprises at last week’s meeting to gather feedback to design a new amphitheater for the more than 100-year-old landmark park — there was support for the opportunity to shape the project, some stubborn skepticism, and good traction for an option that would see the location of the popular stage shift ever so slightly to an alignment that would provide better access and place the feature more in the spirit of the original Olmsted vision for the green space.

“People also need to remember that we haven’t designed this yet,” a Volunteer Park Trust representative told CHS following the meeting in the auditorium of the Seattle Asian Art Museum to get public input on the project to replace the aging amphitheater.

The representative also said the meeting was useful for gathering feedback from neighbors — even those who seemed intractable — because many of the concerns about the new stage have more to do with Seattle Parks policies for events than revamping the current roofless, brick theater structure built in 1971. Representatives from the two architecture firms hired by the Volunteer Park Trust to design the new performance space — Owen Richards from Owen Richards Architects  and Chris Jones from Walker Macy Landscape Architects — were at the meeting to share some high concept visuals along with their ideas for the project and to gather feedback.

“This has not been designed yet. We thought it would be important to know what the existing conditions are, what the [problems] are, and what people’s dreams are,” said Richards. At this point, the firms have started a site analysis, conducted several focus group interviews with community stakeholders, and met with performance groups to discuss how to design the new theater to better accommodate such events.

Among the issues and factors at play in the design process are parking, accommodating a diverse range of performance artists, adding physical seating, enhancing the stage acoustics, and ADA accessibility.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.44.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.44.23 PMTwo site study options were presented including enhancing the current location for the stage or moving the stage to the west. Richards described the possibility of shifting the entire theater location to combat sunlight from the west that currently shines directly into the eyes of people watching the east facing amphitheater. The move would also more closely map to the original Olmsted design for the space.

IMG_2328-600x400 (1)

A recent electronic music event, db in the Park, embodied concerns from attendees that a new theater would bring noise and neighborhood disruption.

“I live about a half mile from the park and there was a rave two weeks ago and it vibrated my windows and my neighbors windows for hours,” said one audience member. “I think it’s really flippant of you, or maybe you just want to gloss over it, but there will have to be decibel restrictions,” he said.

Seattle Parks and Recreation representative Pamela Kliment tossed the event to the wolves and blamed event organizers for going over their permitted time slot and noise levels. “We won’t be [permitting] them again,” she said.

“When we bought our house we knew we lived next to a park and that there would be events and I don’t really feel I’m in a position to complain about any events,” another resident of 25 years said. “Decibel was definitely the loudest it’s ever been. But that was kind of a one off thing.” Another newer, younger neighborhood resident (as of six months) commended the park’s hosting a “diverse range of events.”

Others voiced concern about parking while some said a new theater with a roof would attract homeless people.

“If you have a cover, there’s going to be people sleeping in it,” said one resident.Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.42.02 PM


In 2014, the VPT secured a $25,000 grant from the Department of Neighborhoods as part of their Neighborhood Matching Fund to finance the design phase of the project. The rest will be covered by VPT fundraising, private sector sponsorships, and other grants.

The next public meeting on the project will be held on February 11th when ORA and Walker Macy will present the findings of their site analysis and public outreach. A full report with design recommendations will be released in the spring of next year, according to the Volunteer Park Trust.

The VPT’s presentation on the design process is below. You can learn more at

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14 thoughts on “Despite expected pushback, Volunteer Park Trust moves forward on design of new amphitheater

  1. “Despite expected pushback, Volunteer Park Trust moves forward on design of new amphitheater” is the title of this article. What in the world does this title mean? I was an attendee. While there were concerns expressed, I did not sense there was any “push back”, in fact people were positive in their feeling that the amphitheater can be improved successfully.

  2. Any update on discussions I had heard about covering the reservoir and using the space?

    They did this to Jefferson Park and it is wonderful.

  3. The concerns expressed at the meeting were mostly about noise and neighborhood impact. It was amazing how little info the Trust has concerning event schedules, etc. Yes, the city controls events in parks, but one has to assume with a new facility and all the outreach the Trust has done to get groups to get on board, the number of events will increase greatly. It will impact the surrounding neighborhoods and in the list of possibilities were some vague parking ideas that would certainly affect homeowners. I also found it stunning when someone asked what the budget was for the new amphitheater and the response was, “we have no budget.”

    • Will the number of events increase greatly? Was there a comment on that? I generally see the stage BEHIND the Shakespeare in the Park plays each summer – I’m curious what those companies would want in a new stage since the current one isn’t fit to use. Those plays and the chamber concerts are what I see most often in the park during the summer.

  4. The city was foolish to have an event called decibel fest and not expect to have some sort of impact. And if an event goes longer, shut it down at the set time.

    I like the idea of shifting the stage so the setting sun doesn’t blind the audience, I always wondered who chose the location for the current stage. When it comes time to design the stage, the architects have a challenge: there are four structures visible at the park, the conservatory (Victorian) the Art Deco museum and pump house, and the water tower. So is there a way a small stage can incorporate all three design languages? I’d actually like to see an Art Deco stage that plays off the museum, but it might not be able to have the same gravitas as the museum.

  5. Lose the museum. The above photos show how Olmstead designed the park, with light passing through the covered pavilion atop the slope. The space behind the museum is currently a shaded dead zone. The original pavilion would bring an incredible feel to this great park. Stand behind the museum on a fall afternoon and look west. You’ll quickly get the idea.

  6. Well, Decibel is up in the air about coming back next year at all, so those poor poor babies won’t have to worry about the fact they live in a city and cities make noise. You can deal with one day a year, folks.

    • People’s concerns about the amphitheater are not just related to the decibel fest. Cities don’t make noise, people make noise. Why do people insist on making noise in every possible venue? Maybe there are more appropriate venues than Volunteer Park? Why would any event be more appropriate at Volunteer Park than at Cal Anderson for example. Also there are many events at VP, it’s not just 1 day.

  7. This is a great idea for Volunteer Park. I hope it doesn’t get lost for years in the Seattle Process. People obsessed about noise should get clues that there already are outdoor events in Volunteer Park that make “noise,” e.g., outdoor movies. Capitol Hill also has block parties, etc. Seattle is a city. People who want zero noise ever should put in earplugs, occasionally wear noise-cancelling headphones or move into a cave at some distant location.

    • I wonder if you are old enough to remember the arguments from smokers who wished to smoke in every corner of the earth and complained about people obsessed with clean air. They used almost identical arguments including telling people to move out of the city.