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.
Two 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.
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.
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 volunteerparktrust.org.