Every Thursday throughout the summer for more than 120 years, the Two Harbors City Band has filled Thomas Owens Park with music. Soon, the park could receive a major makeover and the band could see a new home.
The band shell in Thomas Owens Park is "nearing the end of its useful life" and needs to be replaced, according to Friends of the Bandshell Park (FBSP) President Al Anderson.
FBSP is a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 to explore options for the current band shell "with the hope of revitalizing the area and creating a town square concept" around the park, according to the group's website. Anderson and FBSP are not just exploring options to replace the existing band shell with another, similar structure — they hope to create an all-season performing arts center that would become a hub of activity in Two Harbors.
"It started as a city band-driven project," Anderson said. "But it's turned into a community-wide thing. We hope to use it for dance recitals or plays."
Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson, also a FBSP board member, agrees that a new multipurpose building would be helpful in attracting people and businesses to downtown.
"The roots of Two Harbors are deeply embedded in music — our community since its inception — and there have been many people who have gone on to perform professionally," Swanson said. "To have a performing arts center in the center of your town is basically the crown jewel for our city ... this kind of a project builds community pride. It drives home the concept that we want this area to be just beautiful.
"Waterfront Drive is the showcase drive of Two Harbors and this is going to be the thing that people will drive right by and see how beautiful it is," he said.
The Two Harbors City Band was founded in 1897. Anderson said he believes it's the oldest city band in Minnesota, though he admits there are some who would disagree.
"We like to say we're the oldest continually performing city band," he said. "Sometimes we get a little pushback, but we've been doing it a while."
Anderson started playing in the band in 1968 and his mother joined in the 1940s, but the band shell, built in 1937, predates them both.
Now more than 80 years old, the structure is becoming more challenging to maintain, and it's noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are a few band members with mobility problems and other disabilities who can't access the basement where instruments are stored and the rest of the band warms up before concerts.
In 2017, the project received a boost when it received a pair of grants: a $15,000 design grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and a $5,000 starter grant from the Blandin Foundation. FBSP used the money to hire Krech Ojard & Associates in Duluth to create some conceptual drawings. After posting them on the FBSP website, money began to come in from other sources as well.
The new structure would require some significant changes to the layout of the park. The current band shell faces Waterfront Drive, but the new performing arts center would be perpendicular to the old building, with the back of the building along Second Avenue. Anderson estimates the cost of the new facility to be around $4 million, but the FBSP already has a good start on the fundraising effort.
Deirdre Schlunegger, a grant writer who recently moved to Two Harbors, has been volunteering her services to the project. She said the FBSP has raised more than $550,000 in the past year. Another $350,000 has been committed to building the new center and renovating Thomas Owens Park.
Anderson said the organization is committed to keeping the new building a privately funded project. While conceptual renderings depict a brick structure, Louisiana Pacific has committed to donating its SmartSide panel siding for the band shell, which brings funding and in-kind donations to more than $1 million so far.
"We have not accepted any taxpayer dollars," Anderson said. "It's not been part of our plan to use taxpayer money. All the money we've raised has been from grants from foundations and corporations and individual donations."