Village moves to increase use of Gardens Banyan Bowl

By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld

Banyan Bowl at Pinecrest Gardens.

Pinecrest wants to make better use of the Banyan Bowl, the 500-seat amphitheater in Pinecrest Gardens, and Mayor Cindy Lerner says the village commissioned a study that indicates there are plenty of music and theater groups that could come in and use the facility if it were upgraded.

The study also proposed renovating the Banyan Bowl by adding a stage, lighting and a sound system.

Lerner says the study was the catalyst for making Pinecrest Gardens its own department, shifting it out of Parks and Recreation. That led to the hiring of Alana Perez as Pinecrest Gardens director.

“She’s got a lot of experience with programming and development,” said Lerner.

One of the steps the village is taking is to seek financial backing from the philanthropic community. Another step is applying for grants.

“We’re going to start a jazz series,” said Lerner. “It’s a really exciting initiative.”

Years ago, when the Parrott Jungle wanted to host weekend events to boost revenues, neighbors organized and scuttled that plan. But that shouldn’t be a problem this time because the neighbors have been included throughout the process.

“We brought in a consultant to do a lighting program,” said Lerner. “We had the neighbors on the lighting committee, so their needs were addressed from the get-go. Since the Parrott Jungle left, the village has put in a speaker system and we control the amplification, whether it’s for a private party or a wedding. It wouldn’t be as noisy or intrusive as the parties that used to be there for the Parrot Jungle. We are trying to be understanding and respectful.”

Pinecrest Gardens Director Alana Perez says the study polled residents and the results indicated that more than 70 percent would like to see music, theater and other performing arts events at the Banyan Bowl.

“They would prefer evening, and the weekends,” said Perez. “The lion’s share said Friday and Saturday night. They wanted to see it developed into a kind of cultural Mecca.”

Perez hopes to build the same atmosphere as the Raivinia Festival in Chicago. Raivinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony.

“You can take a very elegant neighborhood and have people embrace it if it’s the right kind of entertainment,” said Perez. “It is our intent to restore this iconic landmark and fulfill its mission as a valuable asset to the community, which provides diverse cultural opportunities, family entertainment that is reasonably priced and attracts artists and patrons from the Pinecrest community and beyond.”

Perez is looking to book jazz concerts, chamber music and smaller symphony works.

“We would like to have plays and we are talking to a number of theater companies,” she said. “The garden lends itself to Shakespeare, soft jazz and Latin jazz that would appeal to the community and be supported by the neighbors once they understand that we are not going to do things that would upset their lifestyles.”

Perez says she took the study and reduced it to what was most practical and determine what it would take to get a limited season of some sort of performing arts from November to May. That includes an ADA accessible stage, lighting, including stage lighting, egress lighting, stair lighting for safety reasons and basic house lighting, a basic sound system and ventilation; not air conditioning, but something to circulate the air to make patrons comfortable.

The cost of the planned improvements is less than 10 percent of what the study suggested for Phase One. The amount of money she will have to work with depends on the budget meetings taking place this summer.

For more information, call 305-669-6990.

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