Howard Leu
Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheater

From the ground up

The COA renews a Riverwest park with a grand view of Downtown and the Milwaukee River and expands its Skyline Music Festival.

By - Nov 23rd, 2012 09:02 am
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Rendering of the new Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheater in Kadish Park. Photo provided by HGA Architects and Engineers.

The Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheater, currently under construction, was conceived from the vision and leadership of Tom Schneider, executive director of COA Youth and Family Centers. The organization’s Skyline Music Series will kick off its 2013 season on July 9 following a grand opening ceremony of the new amphitheater at Kadish Park.

COA, or Children’s Outing Association, signed a 25-year lease with the City of Milwaukee in 2004 to manage the then decrepit and crime-ridden green space next to its Riverwest Center, at 909 E. Garfield Ave. COA named the newly established park after Alice Bertschy Kadish, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher, philanthropist and longtime supporter of the locally-based children’s support organization.

Schneider said he wanted Kadish Park to enhance life quality and safety and connect the park to the surrounding communities. He worked closely with Mike Wisniewski, from the city’s Department of City Development — a visionary in his own right, who died in 2009 — to cut back the bluff and vegetation and pave a switchback to connect the park to a cross-city bike path.

A light bulb lit up in Schneider’s head, he said, when he saw that the middle landing of the switchback could be expanded for activities or performances. Then and there, a new urban outdoor arts venue was conceived.

View of Kadish Park and the amphitheater from across the river. Photo by Howard Leu.

The concrete paved platform with three arc-shaped retaining walls that doubled as seats were in place for the first Skyline series, in 2008. About 150 people turned out for the first concert. In the next few years, crowds grew exponentially. Each of the seven concerts in 2012 brought in roughly 1,000 people. Such local music acts as King Solomon, De La Buena and Paul Cebar have been regulars.

“The concerts are incredibly relaxing and enjoyable,”  Schneider said. “After the concerts, people linger to watch the skyline darken and enjoy each other’s company.”

The music series has proven significant to Schneider’s cause of bringing people together. The time came to build a permanent pavilion and add more seating.

HGA Architects and Engineers provided the design and consultation on the project pro bono. Architect David Lang, Associate Vice President and Senior Project Designer at HGA, leads the project.

“The amphitheater pavilion is intended to intervene with the view of the skyline as little as possible,” said Lang. “The rolling hillside and bluff inspires the fluid shape.”

Minimal obstruction of the city skyline from the pavilion. Photo by Howard Leu.

The structure and chosen materials assist in minimizing the obstruction of the skyline from the park, Lang said. The Teflon-coated PVC roof membrane will add to that effect and at night become illuminated, making the pavilion a beacon of light. Three additional seatwalls have been added, along with the new path that flows through the park. The lines will blend in with the landscape, especially when covered in snow. The amphitheater and the paths are intended to be usable year round.

The new path and its switchbacks will make the park much more attractive to bicyclists and provide a safer way to negotiate the steep hill. Their presence will heighten awareness of the park and its festival and further suppress crime.

Lang also said that Schneider’s “ability to inspire donors to give to the cause” is the reason this project exists. “Tom’s heart and hands brought this project to life,” he said.

Large donations were given by the Selig, Joseph and Folz families. Bud and Sue Selig, Bonnie Bockl and Leon Joseph, Richard and Susan Folz all have been long time supporters and leaders of COA and are all well known contributors to arts and civic projects in Milwaukee.

Schneider looks forward to increased attendance at 2013’s Skyline Music series. You will surely find him mingling, as always, with the crowd and appreciating the community, the music and the breathtaking skyline.

The grand opening of the Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheater will be on July 9, 2013, with concert to follow. Starting after Summerfest, the Skyline Music Series occurs every Tuesday 5-8 p.m. through the rest of summer. The amphitheater is a public space and will be open for any music and theater group to use.

View looking east of the amphitheater and newly paved path. Photo by Howard Leu.

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