DECATUR — With the approval of additional infrastructure work for the nearly $4 million amphitheater in Nelson Park, Decatur Park District officials said the decision will make it easier to bring much bigger acts to the venue.
During its regular meeting Wednesday, the board voted 4-0 to approve the alternate work bids, which Architectural Expressions managing partner Larry Livergood said would not affect the venue's construction schedule. Commissioner Chris Harrison was not present for the vote.
"What we're trying to do here is to make it so we're not handcuffed to where we can't have a big act," Board President Bob Brilley II said of the decision. "It gives us more flexibility."
When the initial construction bids for the amphitheater went out, Livergood said the board was previously presented with a series of alternate work bids that give the district an opportunity to make adjustments and improvements to the amphitheater as its progress continues.
The board could have approved all of the alternatives at the same time, he said, but it decided to discuss them separately as the project develops. The extra work will cost a total of $126,918, Livergood said.
According to Livergood, the alternative bids will add underground conduits for the lighting system, the audio/visual system and will increase the number of amps that the venue's electrical system can provide. These additions were suggested to Architectural Expressions by two consultants — acoustics firm Threshold Acoustics and lighting firm Schuler Shook, he said.
Livergood said the infrastructure improvements will benefit the park district by making the amphitheater's capabilities more flexible.
When the amphitheater is finished, he said, performers will either bring their own audio/visual equipment or the district will rent it from a third party. The district will also rent any necessary lighting equipment, Livergood said. With the additional changes, the infrastructure will now be able to support the installation of permanent lighting and audio fixtures if the district ever decided to do so, he said.
"(The work) allows them to put those systems in at a later time, and it prevents us from having to make any alterations to the new construction," Livergood said. "This infrastructure will already be in place."
As for the amp increase, Livergood said that raising the allocation from 800 amps will make it easier for the amphitheater to support larger acts whose equipment and performances require more electricity. He said the consultants suggested raising the the allocation to 2,000 amps, but he and the park district will soon have further discussions on whether that can be lowered to 1,600, along with other budgetary aspects of the bids.
"(The meetings) aren't going to affect our decision, but they're to see where we could save some (electrical) wire or do other things to help save some money," Brilley said.
The amphitheater has been a major aspect of the district's lakefront development plans since 2014, after former Gov. Pat Quinn visited Decatur and announced the district would receive funding for the multimillion-dollar outdoor venue.
But in January 2015, district officials said Quinn's office didn't approve necessary paperwork before Gov. Bruce Rauner took office that month. A few months later, Rauner suspended all state grants for park district projects.
Planning for the project resumed after The Howard G. Buffett Foundation announced in October 2016 that it would cover the $3.9 million cost of a new outdoor venue. The city and park district are sharing the estimated $358,600 of engineering and professional services.
In November, the board approved Christy-Foltz's bid to build the project. At $3,998,402, its bid was the lowest that Architectural Expressions received for the project. Livergood previously told the Herald & Review that his firm received three bids to build the amphitheater, which ranged from $3.9 million to $4.7 million.
Livergood said that the additional work will not affect the amphitheater's construction schedule, but inclement weather continues to slow down work at the site on the city's east side. He previously said in November that the project was scheduled to be completed by July 29, but he could not provide an update Wednesday.
"The contractor is working hard to maintain the schedule," Livergood said. "The weather has had an impact on progress, and with the good weather ahead, the contractor has the opportunity to make up time."
Despite a winter that "has not been kind" to many of the the district's outdoor operations, Executive Director Bill Clevenger said he and the staff are feeling good about the additional work approval and what lies ahead for the amphitheater.
"What we were doing today was allowing for infrastructure that paves the way for the future," he said.
In other business Wednesday, the board tabled a discussion and approval vote for construction bids for the Nelson Park aquatics center. Clevenger said this was because the district is still analyzing all of the components and numbers surrounding the bids and expects them to be presented to the board at the next meeting.
Brilley reiterated that the tabling of the bid vote was not because the district is planning to change the targeted opening date for the water park, which was pushed in October from summer 2018 to 2019.
"If it would change, we'd let people know," he said. "We always want to be transparent."