The Bergfeld Park Amphitheater project needs one final stamp of approval before it heads for construction.
The city of Tyler is working with the Centene Foundation to make changes to the historic theater in one of Tyler’s most beloved parks.
The final approval of the project and its final cost will be considered by the Tyler Historical Preservation Board at noon on Wednesday in the Tyler Development Center, 423 W. Ferguson.
If the board approves the changes, city staff will place the project out for bid, with construction anticipated to begin in November. If they deny the changes, it will be kicked to the Tyler City Council for consideration.
The renovations would be partially funded by a $325,000 donation from the Centene Foundation, which was approved by the Tyler City Council in January. In exchange, the company would receive naming rights for the stage.
Fitzpatrick Architects, with Land Visions, created a new concept for the space. On Wednesday, the board will go through the engineer's cost estimate and make final decisions on the renovation.
Major changes include lowering of a portion of the amphitheater wall, replacing all chairs in the theater and constructing a new stage. It also would create a grand entrance from the Broadway side with a pavilion to house the history of the park and theater.
But, because the site is a state-registered landmark, any changes required a stamp of approval from the Texas Historical Commission. That was granted on Aug. 10.
“The interpretation of the park and the amphitheater within the new entrance pavilion is a great way to show the history of the park and the original wall,” the commission wrote to the city. “Since the seating in the theatre is not original to the space, we feel as though their replacement will have no adverse effect on the historic site.”
The project is special to Councilman Don Warren, who helped with efforts to replace the park's playground last year. He said the improved stage will be a draw to the city. The East Texas Symphony also has committed to playing concerts in the park once its complete.
“Once this is finished, it will be family-friendly,” Warren said. “The kids can play and sit on blankets to watch performances. We are hoping to get some big name acts and have them play once a year.”
Changes include removing two sections of seats and turning them into sloped grassy areas for blankets and lawn chairs.
A section of 442 seats would be sandwiched between two sloped grassy areas - at the front of the stage and at the rear of the theater. Roughly 750 people would be able to sit on the grassy areas, bringing the total capacity to 1,192.
The theater currently seats 1,700.
The sharp 5-foot drop from the stage to the seating area would be leveled out to create a grassy slope, to make it safer for children playing in the area.
The stage itself will be covered, with four iron ore columns holding up the structure. The columns will be made with WPA-era stones already in the amphitheater.
It will have a storage area on either side of the stage that can be used for equipment and an area to change theater costumes during a show.
The backstage wall would be retractable so it could be left open when the stage is not in use, eliminating places where people could hide.
Sidewalks also would be added to make the area ADA compliant.
The WPA-built iron ore walls that surround the amphitheater would mostly be left intact and repaired. Tall sections of the wall at the back of the theater would be shortened from five feet to two feet, to allow more visibility of the stage. Other sections would be shortened to allow park goers to watch productions from outside the designated theater seating and sections would be removed in select places to allow sidewalks to lead from the seating areas to the park’s restrooms. Those also would ensure the park is accessible to people with disabilities.
Another major change includes adding a “grand entrance” into the theater, which would be visible from Broadway Avenue.
The four columns would each have historical plaques showing the history of the park and amphitheater.
The entrance would be west of Splasher, the dolphin water feature.
Splasher would stay, but the architects propose adding a seating area south of that area to create symmetry coming into the theater.
Behind the theater, a concrete strip would be added to allow trucks to drive directly into the park and unload equipment.
A final price tag has not been publicly discussed.
The amphitheater technically is named the General Wood Amphitheater, even though it has never had overhead signage. It was a gift to the city from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. and named after its president.
It was built in 1936.
Tyler Morning Telegraph