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Probably the least discussed aspect of the River City Renaissance project is the Performing Arts Pavilion. For me, it’s exciting...and it’s been a long time coming. Back in 2000, the late Al Zook pulled together a group of musicians and community leaders (the late Gil Lettow, the late Rich Dean, Vance Baird, John Klemas, Scott Bell, Bob Fisher, Dr. Darrell Fisher, Ed Kent, Robin Anderson, Dennis Higgins, and me) and dubbed us the Build the Bandshell Committee.

Our charge was to design and raise funds for a new band shell in East Park. The small size of the historic band shell and its inferior acoustics could no longer accommodate the Mason City Municipal Band. We commissioned an acoustical study and selected an architect to prepare plans for a band shell/community center similar to the band shell in Downtown Clear Lake.

In 2007, our new pavilion was part of Mason City’s Vision Iowa grant application, and we thought our hard work was finally coming to fruition. But the new band shell was dropped from the scope of the plan to appease the city council. Our committee was disappointed, but we marched on. We have continued to fundraise, apply for grants, search for a new location, and redesign our pavilion dream. In addition, the municipal band has moved from location to location to play our summer concert series.

With the significant investment that has been made to our downtown, the Municipal Band made a decision to move our concerts to Thursday evenings (instead of Sunday) and to play them on the Federal Avenue Plaza. This was intended as a temporary solution while we continued to search for a place to construct a permanent pavilion and storage area in the downtown core.

The effort to repurpose Southbridge Mall provides a wonderful opportunity for us — and for the entire community! The proposal to incorporate an indoor/outdoor stage into the Plaza entrance to Southbridge will result in a big win for everyone.

• The Southbridge entrance will be redesigned in a manner that is more in keeping with the wonderful architecture already present on the Federal Avenue Plaza (including the world-renowned Historic Park Inn Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.)

• The flexible space design will accommodate entertainment of various sizes — from the large municipal band to individual musical acts.

• The interior “companion” venue will provide a rain site for performance activities such as the North Iowa Band Festival, Friday Night Live events, and the municipal band. In addition, the annual “Tuba Christmas” will be able to accommodate even more performers and spectators.

It is our hope the citizens of Mason City will agree that repurposing Southbridge Mall with the addition of a multi-purpose arena and an indoor/outdoor stage is a creative solution to several long-term community challenges.

Please join me and the members of the Build the Bandshell Committee in voting YES and YES for the River City Renaissance project.

Russ Kramer is the director of the Mason City Municipal Band.

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