Work starts on new stage at Richland’s John Dam Plaza

Construction has started at the HAPO Community Stage at the John Dam Plaza in Richland.
Construction has started at the HAPO Community Stage at the John Dam Plaza in Richland. Tri-City Herald

It’s taken longer than expected, but construction is finally starting on a new stage at Richland’s John Dam Plaza.

The HAPO Community Stage, in the southwest corner of the park across from the federal courthouse, is scheduled to be completed in February. The credit union is paying $300,000 over 10 years for naming rights.

Performers at the 2,350-square-foot stage will be able to entertain between 1,500 and 2,000 people, according to the city. Spectators will sit in a bowl around the stage for better viewpoints.

It will include a dressing room and restroom for performers, storage area and electrical room. It will also have a small orchestra pit four feet below the stage.

The project had a budget of $807,000, with $600,000 of that coming from 2014 and 2015 lodging taxes. But it got a boost when the state Recreation and Conservation Office pledged an additional $300,000, bringing the total cost to just over $1.1 million.

That will allow Richland to put back in some features that were removed after the park first went out for bid, only to have the plans scratched when the lone bid came in over budget, said Joe Schiessl, Richland parks and public facilities director. But the city hasn’t decided what features will be added.

Concrete pads for food trucks to park are among the items under consideration. Several trucks are open daily in John Dam Plaza, but more could come in with the enhancements.

The city is also considering adding power and lighting in the park, as well as enhanced sound and video capabilities for the stage, Schiessl said. That would include a projector with a drop-down screen on the stage.

“We currently show movies in the park on an inflatable screen, which requires a good deal of labor to set up and take down,” he said.

The stage will continue to play host to the summer Live at 5 concerts, but the city will also recruit other concerts and performances, Schiessl said. It also will involve local arts groups.

“There are a number of local performers and groups that are supporting the project, and have expressed interest in using the facility,” he said.

Joel Rogo, co-owner of the Tri-Cities Academy of the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet and Music in Richland, was pleased that Schiessl reached out to him. He thought initial plans for the stage made it too open.

“Joe took the criticism and went back to the drawing board and created a stage we can use,” Rogo said.

The ballet school has not been able to have shows at John Dam Plaza because the stage is now grass, he said.

“We need a firm surface,” Rogo said. “We have our own ballet floor that we will be able to lay on top of the stage floor.”

The stage won’t solve the area’s need for a performing arts center, but it will be beneficial for groups who perform music that doesn’t need amplifiers, like the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers and Mid-Columbia Symphony Orchestra, he said.

“They need acoustics, they need a band shell that will amplify that sound,” Rogo said. “I think it’s an all-around good plan.”

Work began on the stage last week with the removal of a large tree from the site. DGR Grant Construction Inc. of Richland is the contractor on the project. The designer is Design West Architects of Kennewick.

The city began upgrades on the 3.9-acre park with 2014 improvements to sidewalks and other areas. Its master plan also calls for a grand entry plaza in the southeast corner, as well as new fountains.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom