St. Petersburg city officials are allocating funding for much-needed repairs and upgrades at downtown Williams Park’s “iconic” bandshell.
The estimated $1.95 million project would allow for more performances and events at Williams Park, bring its bandshell into Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and prepare the facility for a historic designation. Bryan Eichler, parks and field operations superintendent, provided city council members with an update on the process during the Jan. 12 Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee meeting.
Eichler said the bandshell is one of a few “iconic structures” in St. Petersburg’s many greenspaces and noted Williams Park is the city’s oldest. Named after John Constantine Williams, one of the city’s co-founders, it officially opened at 3rd Street and 1st Avenue North in 1888.
The current bandshell, created by renowned architect William B. Harvard, has served St. Pete since 1954. Eichler relayed that his department now struggles to mitigate myriad maintenance issues, and a significant revitalization project is deserved and needed.
“It’s all worth it in the end to honor and truly show our appreciation for this historic structure,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “In addition to that, it’s going to create a fantastic option for our performing arts organizations to utilize the bandshell.”
Committee members unanimously agreed to allocate money from the recently implemented Downtown Open Space Fund for repairs and modernization upgrades. Eichler noted the city’s administration supports the project, and the funding request will now go to the full council for a final vote.
The parks department partnered with local architecture firm Harvard Jolly to create project funding estimates. The most significant expenditure is $450,000 to replace the green plastic panels covering the bandshell’s 3,800-square-foot stage area with hurricane-resistant glass.
Eichler said the panels have served the city well but are brittle and breaking after 25 years of environmental exposure. He added that vandalism is also a problem, and the roof’s western corner succumbed to winds from Hurricane Ian.
“We’ve replaced that to keep the structure of it going, but we’re at the point now where the acrylic is failing, and we have to look at other options,” said Eichler. “But the plus side for us is the structure was built well.”
He said the facility’s steel remains in good shape despite some surface rust and corrosion. However, Eichler called the building’s interior “rough.”
He asked committee members not to explore the backstage area, due to its current condition. While the overall structure is safe, he said it reached the end of its lifespan.
The hurricane-rated glass panels will cost more than the plastic versions. However, Eichler said it comes with a special coating that reflects heat, and the glass is “as vandal-proof as they can make it.”
The most pertinent “upgrade,” said Eichler, is bringing the facility into ADA compliance, a mandated aspect of any revitalization project. The bandshell also needs sound system electrical components, acoustical paneling to block noise, back-of-house power capabilities and lighting improvements critical to hosting modern concerts and events.
“One of our goals with this facility is to really move some of the things that are happening at the waterfront and move them over here,” he added. “Where you’ve got less impact to the community, less impact to the parklands, and it gives us more options, as far as keeping the green space green longer.”
Eichler relayed that Harvard Jolly began the revitalization’s design phase in November, and planning should take eight to 10 months. While permitting and historic preservation procedures could cause delays, he said the goal is to receive project bids in 12 to 14 months.
Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders asked about parking at Williams Park during events, and Eichler said residents expect to utilize garages and public transportation options. He said his department would work with event planners to ensure transportation options, like a dedicated trolley, are in place.
“Williams Park is never going to be the place where everybody has their parking spot right up front,” said Eichler. “But I think people have grown to accept that, and they kind of like it. They like the downtown feel – you’re in the middle of a city, like (New York’s) Central Park.”
He called the bandshell a usable piece of art and noted it is eligible to receive an official historic designation. Driscoll relayed her reluctance to begin that process until renovations are complete.
“It’s like we’re modernizing it, but we’re preserving it at the same time,” she added.
The initial estimate for repair and maintenance costs is $1.15 million, and the parks department expects to spend another $800,000 on upgrades. City officials plan to use $850,000 from the Downtown Open Space Fund to begin work on the project.