Bandshell plans move forward for Amherst Town Common

  • This bandshell design for the Town Common by by Naomi Darling/ Ray Mann Architects was selected by the Amherst BID. This story was edited on Oct. 14 to provide a correct image of the proposed bandshell. CONTRIBUTED

Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2021

AMHERST — A long-planned bandshell for performers on the Town Common, which would become the first permanent structure on the greenspace and be part of business leaders’ Destination Amherst initiative, is a step closer to reality.

About 18 months after the Amherst Business Improvement District outlined a vision for bringing more visitors to downtown, members of the Town Council expressed appreciation Monday for the bandstand project and unanimously referred it for review by a subcommittee. The Town Services and Outreach Committee will have a report to the council by Dec. 6.

Amherst BID Executive Director Gabrielle Gould told councilors that arts and culture are an economic driver for the town, and the bandshell, designed by Naomi Darling/ Ray Mann Architects, can be a unique piece of functional public art for a post-COVID-19 pandemic future.

“The potential is wide open,” Gould said.

The Downtown Amherst Foundation would cover the costs of its construction.

Designs show the bandshell, 38 feet wide and 24 feet deep, with an origami folded-plate structure architectural roof, and positioned at the edge of Boltwood Avenue near the Inn on Boltwood.

Darling explained that the mostly wood materials gives it visual warmth, while Mann said acoustic engineers are assisting with making sure the structure works to focus and enhance sound.

A rainwater garden would be formed around its stone base. This is the same spot where 1874 plans for the Town Common by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted depict what he called a “music house.”

Already, the Town Common is regularly used for events, including concerts. The BID first broached the idea of constructing the bandshell in 2017.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said she appreciates the vision. “Residents are asking for spaces downtown for us to build community,” Bahl-Milne said.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan said he is impressed by the architecture, which won a competition the BID in 2018. “I’m very much moved by this,” Ryan said.

District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis said the structure is beautiful, but added that it challenges the character of town due to its modern appearance.

There is concern about whether it might be subject to vandalism, with District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam wondering what would happen if graffiti is put on it. “The town doesn’t have a great record for maintenance of some things,” Pam said.

While the Amherst BID is also pursuing an indoor concert hall, to be called The Drake Live Performance and Music Venue, Gould said that project would likely be intentionally closed during the summer, making the bandshell the centerpiece for music during those months. The Drake is planned for the upstairs at the former High Horse, with the BID aiming to raise $250,000 with matching grants for the build-out.

Should the bandshell be constructed, it would be the first structure on the Common since an information booth was removed several years ago. Changes to the Town Common have often met with resistance.

In 1991, for instance, the Amherst Rotary Club offered to design and build a $20,000 steel and masonry bandstand there at no cost to the town. However, the Select Board rejected the offer following an advisory Town Meeting article in which 72 favored and 76 opposed the gift.