Proposal for amphitheater at Lakewood park attracts few fans

Staff writerMay 10, 2014 

Traffic, parking, noise and a loss of passive recreation. Those are just some of the concerns expressed by people who don’t want an amphitheater built at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood.

Roughly 80 people huddled under a tent deflecting a stream of steady rain Thursday night at the site where the amphitheater is proposed in the 340-acre park, one of the region’s largest swaths of public open space.

Most were there to show opposition.

“This park is Lakewood’s jewel and we don’t want to screw it up,” said Oakbrook neighborhood resident Terrance Bennett.

The refrain was echoed throughout the 90-minute meeting. Concerns include noise bouncing off the hill and into neighborhoods, heavy traffic, people parking on residential streets and increased crime — including car break-ins, burglaries, drug use and public drunkenness.

The Rotary Club of Lakewood has proposed building the theater below the hillside nestled between the historic barns and Waughop Lake in the center of the park.

Jay Davis, who visits the park at least once a day with his dog, listed bird species and other animals he’s seen there. He said he believes they would be forced out by an amphitheater.

“The more you develop this park, the more you’re going to lose those critters,” Davis said.

In March, the City Council gave its blessing to the Rotary Club to raise $300,000 for the estimated $600,000 project. The club wants the city to provide the other half of the money through outside grants or other sources.

People at Thursday’s meeting said it seemed a decision was already made to build the amphitheater. City representatives spent most of the meeting trying to convince them otherwise.

The city has a planning process and this project will go through it, said Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

“It’s still an idea that’s being talked about, and there’s a lot of community involvement that needs to happen,” she said. “We’re just starting the conversation.”

The project could require an environmental review, said David Bugher, Lakewood’s development director.

While the naysayers dominated, at least two people spoke in favor of an amphitheater.

“I like the idea. It adds an activity to the park that I would enjoy,” said Gayle Selden of Lakewood. “Let’s look at this and see if this park can be for everyone.”

Selden has attended events at the outdoor amphitheater in Redmond’s Marymoor Park and said she would like to see something similar in Lakewood, even if it’s on a smaller scale.

The Rotary Club proposed the theater to host events such as local theater productions, concerts and private events, including weddings. The club has suggested seating up to 2,500 people, but capacity hasn’t been determined, Dodsworth said.

Neither the city nor the club can afford to operate and maintain the theater, so it would have to generate enough revenue to support itself, said Mark Blanchard, Rotary Club president.

After Thursday’s meeting, Blanchard said the club wants to do a project that has community support.

“We’re going to take all the concerns and try to work through them,” he said. “We were hoping to spend a little money on the arts. It’s 1 acre for the arts.”

City Councilman Jason Whalen applauded the club for its initiative, saying Rotary members are trying to build a project proposed by people who participated in the city’s long-range park planning process.

This week’s meeting was “a great opportunity for the public to express their concerns and thoughts for an opportunity that has yet to be developed,” Whalen said afterward.

Dodsworth will take the feedback and present it to the City Council later this month. The council will decide how to move forward.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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