DECATUR — For the out-of-town visitors who thronged Central Park for last weekend’s Decatur Celebration, it was difficult to miss how much had changed.
Gone was the concrete bowl that once sat in front of the Central Park Stage, replaced with a fresh layer of grass that now covers the majority of the park. That grass had been carefully protected and spared from excessive stress since it was planted at the end of spring, moving annual events such as Decatur Municipal Band and Blues in Central Park concerts to the nearby park in the 300 block of North Water Street.
Celebration was, in fact, the first big test of the new infrastructure, one Public Works Director Rick Marley said the park passed with flying colors.
“I’m tickled pink about the whole thing,” said the director after surveying the post-Celebration park. “I’m glad we waited as long as we did before we opened up the great lawn and other areas on the west end of the park for events like this.
“Our biggest concern was how the grass would survive with all the foot traffic, so we made the decision to leave the grass long for extra cushioning. It got trampled in a few places like the water trailer, but it will recover.”
In fact, Marley expressed surprise and pleasure in how smoothly the entire event ran from a Public Works standpoint. The new Central Park stage’s acoustics were highly complimented, and rarely were his on-scene staffers called in to tackle last-minute issues.
“We didn’t really get many calls; things were pretty smooth sailing all weekend,” he said. “I think the pergolas worked just as they were supposed to. The park looks great. And now, we’ve got the parking garage coming down, and what a beautiful improvement that will be.”
Mike Sorrentino knows the concerns of Celebration’s Central Park Stage better than anyone. A festival volunteer of 15 years, he’s been managing the stage for the past four. Like Marley, he expressed his satisfaction with the new space as a practical entertainment venue.
“The acoustics are nice all across the park because of how the panels angle the sound,” he said. “It’s probably going to take people a little while to realize they can bring a blanket and spread it out on the grass, but it’s going to be a lot better area for the viewers.
“For this being the first weekend they’ve had any entertainment on the stage, we didn’t have any complaints. There’s plenty of electrical access there now, and the lights come on automatically at night.”
Water Street was the other notable area of renovation since last year’s Decatur Celebration, and volunteers working there also faced the challenge of operating a relocated Christian Stage at the corner of Water and Main streets. As one of the festival’s biggest and loudest stages, it had to contend with a lack of electrical access on the location, necessitating the use of a generator, according to Celebration Producer Lori Sturgill.
“I would say the Christian Stage threw us the biggest wrench, because initially when we moved off Main Street, we weren’t planning on putting anything back there again, so we didn’t plan for much power there,” she said. “Then when the Christian Stage didn’t work in the location we tried last year and we decided to move it, that required the generator. But then, the generator wasn’t heavy-duty enough, so we got a higher kilowatt one in by the beginning of Saturday morning.”
Nevertheless, Sturgill believes that location was ultimately an ideal spot for the Christian Stage, in no small part thanks to the improved aesthetics of the ongoing downtown renovations. She also looks forward to another possible avenue of foot traffic created by the demolished parking garage, leading directly from North Park Street to North Street.
“During the for KING & COUNTRY show, I was walking on Water Street, and the street looked so pretty with the new streetscaping and lights there,” she said. “I can’t wait until Franklin Street is done the same way.”
Andrea Gerhard managed the Christian Stage and agreed that the aesthetic and practical improvements to this year’s locations trumped the minor problems of power access, making for a successful year.
“They were certainly all well-attended shows; we had great crowds every night,” she said. “To have a little bit more protection from people coming in from all sides was good, and the stage definitely has a better backstage area now that makes it easier to get bands in and out.
“But it’s also just a better-looking place to have a concert now that the renovations are done. It felt more like we were a part of the Celebration and a part of the city.”