Tulare hopes amphitheater will make some noise for newly designed park

Tulare City Council approves conceptual design for renovation to Zumwalt Park including an amphitheater for concerts and festival

TULARE – Tulare continues to take strides in their downtown rehabilitation process. Most recently by moving forward with conceptual plans for the renovation of Zumwalt Park.

Plans for the design of the new amphitheater, children’s playground and splash pad were approved by the Tulare City Council at its June 21 meeting. The council was presented with a detailed overview of the project. 

“I want to remind everyone, the key to downtown redevelopment is people,” City Manager Marc Mondell said. “We have to have people living downtown working downtown, eating downtown and recreating downtown and entertaining, all those things are necessary and eventually we’ll have all of those at the same time occurring.”

Lief Mckay, a landscape engineer with RRM design group out of San Luis Obisbo, presented the council with a tentative conceptual design of the park. In May, the city held a public outreach meeting to listen to thoughts of those in the community and gather opinions from the public. The final design took into consideration the public’s insight as well as input from Parks and Recreation and the Parks Commission.

The design of the park puts the amphitheater in the north portion of the park with its back to Tulare Avenue, facing city hall. The playground will be in the southeast corner and the splash pad will be in the southwest corner of the park. The park will be fenced in with entrances to the park near both the playground and splash pad and the main entrance being in between the two.

The amphitheater will have a contemporary barn style. The architecture will be a simple gable roof form and traditional finish materials like concrete, brick, metal and wood. The design is intended to reflect nearby architecture and give an “agrarian character,” according to the staff report. The building will have the stage, backstage, talent green room, storage, a loading area and additional VIP seating. 

The design was between the barn and a more modern style building modeled after the naval vessel the USS Zumwalt. Even though the amphitheater did not get the maritime theme, the design for the playground will now represent the USS Zumwalt instead. The splash pad will remind older Tularians of a time when there was a pond in the park several decades ago.

While the majority of the park will be completely uprooted, the design is conserving the majority of the existing trees as well as the existing gazebo. A new bathroom facility will be added in place of the existing facilities. The park is designed to provide open spaces for recreation and picnicking when events are not taking place.

The amphitheater will be slightly lower than the surrounding park with grass terraces slowly stepping back up to the existing grade. Seating will be available from all sides of the stage and back allowing for lawn, booth and VIP seating. There will be VIP seats near the stage as well as some VIP booths in the middle of the venue. 

“Maybe they are corporate booths or VIP booths that a business could take over and it’s more comfortable,” McKay said. “Maybe there’s some sort of beverage service.”

According to Mondell, most shows will have the ability to seat 1,500 to 3,500 ticketed attendees. There is the possibility for street closures in the event of a festival, having the option to host up to 5,000 attendees. 

“We’re estimating somewhere between 35,000 to 50,000 attendees per year,” Mondell said. “We might grow that [number] if we have more events, but we feel very comfortable with that.”

Mondell explained that the idea is to contract out with an operator for the amphitheater. The combination of professional booking services and high quality facilities should attract bigger name performers.

“You have to remember when you’re designing these facilities, just like we grade the artists, the artists grade the venues,” Mondell said. “So if you want good artists, you have to have a good venue space.”

In addition to the major changes, the park will also receive additional angled parking on the East side of the park, while also making it more user friendly. McKay said they have designed it in such a way to allow for a street fair, farmers market or an area for food trucks. 

Project manager Nick Bartsch told the council there may be a need for additional funding to overcome issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. He assured the council that staff is currently looking for additional funding alternatives should there be a need. 

“Based on the current proposed improvements along with the recent projected cost escalations, initial estimates indicate that there may be a need for additional funding beyond what we budgeted for construction,” Bartsch said. 

One thing that was brought up in public comment was what to do about events that take place in the extreme heat of summer. The design team is currently thinking about that and what some alternatives could be. Mondell is sure they will be able to find a solution, either by avoiding shows during the dead of summer, or finding other alternatives to make people more comfortable.

This is not Mondell’s first amphitheater project. Prior to joining Tulare as the new city manager last year, Mondell has experience in redevelopment in different towns across the country including amphitheaters in Rocklin, Calif. and Ocala Fla.

“I’ve redeveloped several downtown’s, in my experience,” said Mondell, who has master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning. “So this is something that I sort of live and eat and sleep. This kind of work, it’s a passion of mine.”

The complete design for the park will be completed in late 2022 according to Deputy City Manager Josh McDonnell. Once the design is complete, the city will move to bid in early 2023 with construction to follow. 

“We’re going to take everything we learned in those projects, plus we’re gonna get an operator that runs these concert series in other locations so we’ll have more buying power for better talent, and we’ll take everything they’ve learned everything we’ve learned everything our design team has learned, to build a much better project in Tulare,” Mondell said.

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