Volunteer organizes Bandshell mega-fix

Lake Harriet icon will get repairs at almost no public cost -- and Mark McGowan says that's just the beginning

A developer with local roots is raising money and volunteers to paint and repair the Lake Harriet Bandshell -- and organizing a post-fix-up celebration called Lake Harriet Live!, a free, all-day music event with food and art booths.

Mark McGowan is the project's driving force, and his effort -- which he says will save the public at least $350,000 -- has the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's blessing. McGowan wants the festival to become an annual fund-raising event for lake and park improvements, he said.

Lake Harriet Live! is a newly formed nonprofit corporation.

"No one is getting any compensation whatsoever," he said.

McGowan grew up on the 4700 block of Thomas Avenue South, near Lake Harriet, he said. He graduated from Southwest High in 1974 and played right wing on the school's once-dominant hockey team.

McGowan lives in South Minneapolis and still enjoys the lake, in-line skating or going for walks with his wife and their chocolate labrador. He is the president of Minneapolis-based McGowan Development Corp.; its projects include ongoing efforts to build a Burnsville amphitheater.

McGowan said he was looking at the bandshell on a cold, drizzly November day and noticed the peeling paint and deteriorating cedar shingles. (The Park Board rebuilt the Lake Harriet bandshell in 1985; the fifth version since 1888, according to the Park Board Web site.)

"This was my old stomping ground. I thought, 'This place is in disrepair,'" McGowan said. The bandshell "isn't a regional landmark, it is a national landmark. This is something I feel we take for granted."

He has gathered a number of business sponsors, such as Home Depot, which is donating paint and equipment and Zinsser, which is donating the primer and stain.

The economic downturn, state aid cuts and property tax caps have put the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in a financial bind. It has struggled to find money to keep open all of its fishing docks and swimming beaches.

The Park Board had not begun to prepare a budget for bandshell repairs, said Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent for administration and finance.

The Park Board's only out-of-pocket expense so far is $3,000 to register the Lake Harriet Live Web site domain name and cover monthly fees.

Siggelkow said he hoped other business people and civic leaders would follow a similar model to help park facilities. Other residents might feel about the Sculpture Garden, the Parade complex or Minnehaha Falls the same way McGowan feels about the bandshell.

"What Mark [McGowan] has shown is with some enthusiasm and support from the Park Board, the sky is the limit," Siggelkow said. "This is a great model and great first step. We need to find more people like Mark."

The project also has had its challenges, he said. The Park Board is on new ground, trying to do a major project with all-volunteer labor and donations. It needs to secure the appropriate work agreements and protections without creating barriers to volunteering.

McGowan said volunteer painters and carpenters would have the insurance and provide mechanics' liens. The companies donating materials would provide warranties.

The project is not bonded, however, said Siggelkow. "We wouldn't let it start if we didn't think it could be finished," he said.

A growing effort

McGowan said he initially planned a simple project: organize a volunteer painting crew, what he referred to as a "good, old-fashioned Tom-and-Huck whitewashing the fence."

(He admits he can't remember if it was Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn who painted the fence.)

When he asked a park staff member about his idea, the staffer told him the windows also needed repair, McGowan said. And the project grew.

Vandals apparently use bandshell benches to break the windows, McGowan said. Park Board staff has had to replace hundreds of windows over the years.

To reduce future vandalism expenses, Harmon Inc./Viracon and its parent company Apogee will donate extra-thick reinforced glass for the bandshell, said Steve Norton, Harmon's director of renovation. It's twice as thick as the current glass; each four-foot glass square weighs approximately 130 pounds.

"That's the type of glass they use at hockey rinks," he said.

Compounding problems, the steel curtain holding the glass is corroded badly, Norton said. The project includes sandblasting the steel and putting on high-performance primer and paint. Harmon brought in Chicago-based K.R. Christopher to donate the paint and Braun Intertech to donate the engineering analysis.

The glass, structural repairs and labor are worth approximately $100,000, he said.

McGowan, a polished promoter, touts the project backers at every conversational turn. Other sponsors include United Rentals, which is providing boom trucks and other restoration equipment, Apr/s Party Rental, which is providing tents for the festival and Biffs, which is providing the portable toilets.

Varsity Painters and other contract painting companies are helping with the volunteer painting crew, which now numbers 25-30, he said. The project needs more painters.

McGowan is already thinking about next year. Standing in the bandshell's shadow, he talks of contacting a brick company to donate bricks to resurface the seating area. (People also could buy engraved bricks to sponsor the project, similar to the Loring Park restoration, he said.)

The fest

The bandshell work should start by Aug. 1 and finish no later than Sept. 12, McGowan said. The effort would take place during the day so as not to disrupt the Park Board's free evening concerts.

The inaugural Lake Harriet Live! event is set for Sunday, Sept. 19, noon-8 p.m.

Local musician Mick Sterling is the festival's music director and will perform with Kevin Bowe and the Rolling Blunder Review plus other special guests.

Sterling said he wanted to make the festival as musically diverse as possible. He has a few spots to fill, but current groups include: the full 96-piece Minnesota Symphony Orchestra; rock 'n' roll band Boogie Wonderland; jazz singer Debbie Duncan and reggae group The Primitives, with special guest Wain McFarlane of Ipso Facto.

Sterling is also working to get a gospel group to perform at the bandshell's morning ecumenical service, he said.

McGowan said local restaurateurs would have food booths, and local athletic councils, such as the Southwest Athletic Council (SWAC) and Lynnhurst Athletic Council (LARC), could join in.

Organizers would invite 15 – 20 artists and photographers to sell park-oriented art, he said.

Vendors would pay a fee or percentage of sales that would support the Lake Harriet Preservation Fund, McGowan said. Organizers would also collect donations.

The money could pay for any number of improvements, such as banners, an extra milfoil harvester or faux finish painting inside the refectory's coned roof, depicting the bandshell's various makeovers. He even talks about installing a lake fountain that concertgoers could see through the bandshell's windows.

"I would like to bring back the 'Our Lady of the Lakes' paddleboat," he said.

All donations to the Lake Harriet Preservation Fund will run through a board of neighbors, business leaders, and park and recreation representatives, McGowan said. It is under the umbrella of the newly created Minneapolis Parks