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Improvements, upgrades proposed for Williams Park Bandshell

Bill DeYoung

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Williams Park's current bandshell, stage and restroom area were built in 1954. Photo: Parks and Recreation.

It was state-of-the-art in 1954, when it was built. But in 2022, the Williams Park Bandshell is strictly old school.

The green, Chevron-shaped high ceiling is pushing 70, and it’s showing its age.

So St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation has hatched a plan to renovate and upgrade the historic structure, and its backstage environs (including public restrooms), bringing it up to speed for today’s musical and/or theatrical audio, visual and other technological needs.

In other words, the necessities that every other performance space in the city already has.

Parks and Recreation, through a study created by the Harvard Jolly architectural firm, will ask City Council to approve $1.5 million for bringing the Williams Park Bandshell into the modern age.

“It’s a CIP (Capital Improvement Program) Penny for Pinellas request,” said Bryan Eichler, the department’s assistant director. “Council approves those projects – we’re hoping that we’ll be successful in gaining attention and moving the project forward.

“There’s a lot of interest in it, not only from the community but also the city and administration in general.”

City administration sets up Capital Improvement Program requests in terms of priorities, and Eichler is hopeful council will consider the $1.5 million request over the summer, with budget codification starting in October.

1940s-era postcard showing the original Williams Park Bandshell. Printed on the back of this card: “St. Petersburg, the ‘Sunshine City,’ is America’s wonder winter playground in the Happyland of Florida, fanned by gentle breezes from Gulf and Bay, which temper the warmth of summer and banish winter’s chill, making almost every day an outdoors day, with nights cool and pleasant.”

Named for John Constantine Williams, one of the city’s co-founders, Williams Park (originally City Park) officially opened at 3rd Street and 1st Avenue N. in 1888. Until the great suburban migration of the 1950s and ‘60s, Williams Park was, literally, the center of St. Petersburg, surrounded on all sides by department stores, office buildings and churches.

The existing bandshell was created by architect William B. Harvard, whose unique, angular designs were (and are) scattered all over the bay area, from Pasadena Community Church to the original Busch Gardens Hospitality House and the “Inverted Pyramid” St. Pete Pier, which was demolished in 2015.

The Harvard bandshell, and its predecessor, were the site of regularly-scheduled municipal band concerts and other activities for much of the 20th century – always during daylight hours.

There are no “stage lights,” and no sound system.

Williams Park later became a haven for homeless people, and a known gathering place for drug addicts, and was all but avoided by local citizenry.

This changed after 2017, when the city and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority partnered to eliminate Williams Park as the main downtown hub for buses.

“The Bandshell itself is really one of those iconic pieces or architecture for St. Pete,” Eichler said.

“Our goal was to look at what events we have out there currently, what’s there, and then really talking to the stakeholders on what they would need to continue those. And to grow into the future.

“That’s what these enhancements really point us towards.”

 

 

 

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    GJ Thompson

    March 1, 2022at7:15 pm

    This is is exciting. St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival has used the current space since 2017 for our productions. We would be very interested in being part of conversations about the future of the bandshell.

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