A “Concert”ed Effort

                             By David P. Burch                                              

The city of Waukesha, Wis., sits along the Fox River in Waukesha County, located approximately 20 miles west of Lake Michigan, and approximately 160 miles east of the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa. Named by the Potawatomi Indians, Waukesha, which means “water by the fox,” is a growing city of approximately 71,000 residents. The historic districts near downtown and Carroll University offer a range of historic buildings.

Morris Cutler, born June 13, 1810, was the first white settler in the area. On May 7, 1834, he founded what is now the city of Waukesha, with two small shanty buildings. and named it Prairie Village. Prior to his settlement, the Potawatomi Indians had a village on the site. The original land holdings of Cutler totaled 160 acres, some of which is now Carroll University.

The Heart Of The Park
Cutler Park, which encompasses 9 acres, is at the heart of the downtown. It is a few blocks from the Fox River, home to a farmer’s market, recreation activities, new redevelopment projects along the river, and several miles of walking and bicycling trails. The park includes a number of burial mounds, a Civil War cannon, the public library, a playground, winding paths, and the Les Paul Performance Center (LPPC). Cutler Park serves as a neighborhood park for downtown area residents and a community park; it has hosted a number of special events, including art festivals, music festivals, and historic re-enactment activities, and it serves as a viewing area for downtown bicycle races and parades.

The LPPC is host to a number of outdoor concerts during the year, including a Thursday evening concert series by the Waukesha Civic Band. In 2015, following the renovation of the LPPC, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department started the Tribute Tuesday Concert Series. The series was supported by several sponsors in the community along with The Park Foundation of Waukesha, Inc., board members, and volunteers who managed the beverage concessions. Mayor Shawn Reilly offered his food services and provided barbecue sandwiches.

Sprucing Up The Area
The city has completed a number of improvement projects at Cutler Park, including a new flag pole, Maple Avenue street reconstruction on the west side of the park, Wisconsin Avenue street reconstruction on the north side, Grand Avenue street reconstruction on the east side, and the renovation of the Performance Center. The Performance Center was built in 1920, and has been used for the Waukesha Civic Band Summer Concert series for more than 70 years. The building was renamed the Les Paul Performance Center in 1988 in honor of Les Paul, the guitarist and music icon who was born and raised in Waukesha, and is now buried here.

The center was renovated in 2015 with improvements to the structure, accessibility, and lighting and sound systems. The improvements to the band shell coincided with the celebration of what would have been Les Paul’s 100th birthday, and will provide for increased programming opportunities, including a variety of musical performances, movie nights in the park, school concerts, plays, and rental opportunities. The LPPC was home to its first wedding in 2015.

A number of partnerships and sponsors contributed to the success of the project. Based upon Les Paul’s affinity for sound, the Les Paul Foundation funded the audio and video improvements to the facility. The Park Foundation supported the project with contributions toward the LED lighting improvements and the replacement of the main stage overhead door. The project was awarded a Community Development Block Grant for ADA-accessibility improvements.

The total project cost was $309,000, with approximately $105,000 attained through grants, partnerships, and sponsors. The city’s Capital Project budget provided $204,000 for the project.

Well Worth The Effort
The project had a number of challenges and successes. The primary challenge was an aggressive timeline to complete the renovation for the Les Paul 100th Birthday Celebration, and Tribute Tuesday concert series. Another challenge was reaching out to community partners to generate interest and participation in the fundraising campaign. The city staff did an excellent job of identifying elements of the project that could be promoted for fundraising. Some of the elements were small, and some large, thereby giving local groups and businesses options for contributing.

The successes include a great renovation of a historic structure in the community, with improvements that utilize current technology, yet preserve the historical character of the building.

The Park Foundation contributed to the LED lighting system to highlight and brighten the building within the park. The variety of lighting colors and options that are seen daily at the LPPC bring attention to the park and this venue. With the overhead stage door, well, we wanted to “raise” awareness of the wonderful parks, trails, urban forestry, history, and programs that are offered by the City of Waukesha Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

David P. Burch, PLA- Manager, Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use, and President of The Park Foundation of Waukesha, Inc.