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DECATUR – The Decatur Park District is turning to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for help with a significant part of the Nelson Park lakefront development project.

The park district is seeking a $2.5 million Park and Recreational Facility Construction grant to pay for a new amphitheater, one of the centerpieces of the lakefront proposal that park district officials approved in 2011. Officials envision the facility could seat an audience of thousands, though some of that would be grass seating.

Chris Riley, president of the park district's board of commissioners, said it could provide a type of concert venue that the city lacks.

“I've heard from people that their kids are going to Champaign, they're going to Springfield, they're going around Central Illinois to see different artists perform, and I think we ought to be able to have the opportunity to do that as well,” he said.

Park district officials have always been clear that they would seek an outside source of revenue for the amphitheater project, which is expected to cost $3 million to $3.5 million. Riley said that is a lot of money to ask of donors, and the grant would be the quickest way to get the project completed.

As part of the grant requirements, the district will hold a public hearing at the board meeting today. Minutes of the hearing will be part of the grant application, so anyone who speaks in support could help the district's chances, said Bill Clevenger, executive director of the park district.

“It's always nice to have good supporting documentation on most of these grants that we submit,” Clevenger said. “Also, (projects) have to fit into your overall long-range planning program as well. ... There is a focus on the future and where we're going to be in the future, and all that becomes part of the submission process.”

With a staging area of 70 feet by 60 feet, the amphitheater would be located near the rock garden and large pavilion in Nelson Park. Future plans also call for parking in the area to be revamped, though that is not part of this grant application.

The district could sell beer, wine and food at concerts, though Riley emphasized that the atmosphere would not be a raucous one. He said performers would come from a mix of genres, but all would need to respect the park setting.

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Regional Editor

Regional editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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