North Ogden official defends amphitheater, says it fits in a 'traditional' park

Friday , May 11, 2018 - 5:17 PM1 comment

OGDEN — A “traditional” park can have an amphitheater, says Tiffany Staheli, parks and recreation director for North Ogden, making the case for the controversial outdoor theater taking shape at Barker Park.

Testifying at a hearing on the call by Barker Park Amphitheater foes for a court injunction temporarily halting the expansion of the structure, Staheli also said just because portions of a park may be locked at times doesn’t mean it isn’t public.

Wednesday marked the second day of testimony in the call for the injunction, part of the lawsuit filed in 2nd District Court in Ogden by three couples living near the North Ogden structure who want the city of North Ogden to stop the project. The first day of testimony occurred April 11, while more testimony — probably the last of it — is scheduled for Tuesday, May 15.

Staheli was called to testify by the lawyer representing North Ogden to bolster the contention that the expanded amphitheater doesn’t violate terms of a 2000 warranty deed governing Barker Park development, the argument at the center of neighbors’ claims against the city. The deed, crafted by the city and the land’s prior owners, Ray and Fern Barker, says the park is to be a “traditional type city park, and will be open to the public.”

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Foes say an amphitheater doesn’t fit in a traditional park and they seek removal of the facility in their lawsuit, though the structure is largely complete.

But Staheli countered, saying a traditional or typical park, per industry norms, can include an amphitheater. She cited data from a trade organization showing that 30 percent of parks surveyed reported having an amphitheater or some sort of  “performance component.” She also said parks in many other cities around Utah — such as Sandy, Draper, Murray and Harrisville — have amphitheaters.

Staheli also countered contentions that the park would not be public because the new amphitheater, when complete, would be closed and locked at times, saying other parks have elements that are closed at times. The city’s aquatic center, for instance, is closed after hours, but it’s still a public facility.

A much smaller amphitheater — a concrete pad surrounded by concrete slabs — took form in the early 2000s at Barker Park. Talk about expanding the amphitheater dates to 2014, according to Staheli, and the efforts really moved forward in 2017, with groundbreaking last November for the current expansion.

As work unfolded, the neighbors — Aaron Christensen, wife Kim and others — learned the scope of the plans, which took them by surprise, leading to their lawsuit last February. They worry about traffic and noise from events at the larger facility — with its bigger, raised and covered stage and dressing rooms to the rear — and say it doesn’t fit the original vision of the park.

Staheli envisions theatrical productions, symphony performances, festivals and perhaps Christmas activities at the expanded amphitheater.

The current phase of the project, with a $1.85 million price tag, is about 80 percent complete, according to Phil Clawson with the main contractor, Wadman Corp. With future proposed phases, which call for installation of fixed seating and completion of the dressing room and storage area to the rear, it has a total cost of around $4.3 million.

Though the first phase is nearly complete, Matt Ball, attorney for the neighbors suing the city, said the injunction, if granted, could apply to future phases of work. The current hearings are focused on the call for the temporary injunction, while the broader issues of the neighbors’ suit against the amphitheater project have yet to be heard.

The city has one more witness to present in the injunction hearing on May 15, which will be heard by Judge Noel Hyde.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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