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story.lead_photo.caption Parks Department Director Todd Spalding, center, points out areas of Washington Park that will be revamped in future months during the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission's annual parks tour Tuesday. The commission visited four parks, with some members riding on a trolley to get from place to place. Among the improvements to Washington Park will be better lighting for part of Kansas Street so drivers can better see pedestrians at night. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

With the sound of children playing in the air, the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission spent Tuesday evening checking on ongoing park projects in person during a parks tour.

The commission, along with Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department staff, Mayor Carrie Tergin and other city representatives, visited Washington, Ellis-Porter Riverside, East Miller and McClung parks.

The parks tour gives the commission and parks staff the chance to discuss and view ongoing and future parks improvements with the actual visual representation in front of them.

Completed, ongoing and future improvements were laid out in a 20-year master plan, developed in 2018. A majority of the first phase of improvements are being funded by about $7.5 million in special obligation improvement bonds.

The parks department will be responsible for approximately $500,000 in annual debt service per year through the parks fund budget.

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Ellis-Porter Riverside Park

Possibly the biggest and most eye-catching parks improvement is currently under construction at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park.

Crews from Versules Construction are building a large amphitheater at the park to replace an older, smaller one.

The $2.8 million project will result in an amphitheater with fixed seating for about 2,000, with additional seating behind that up the hillside and some grassy seating in the far back.

"I think it's about 3,000 comfy," said Chris Neff, with Architects Alliance. "You can see down into this area for quite a ways. It's hard to put a number on it."

JC Parks staff are currently in the process of finding an event planner who can book and manage events at the new amphitheater, department Director Todd Spalding said.

Nearby parking for large events is one issue parks staff is facing, but alternative parking options are being explored, Spalding said.

Construction is estimated to be complete early next year, Neff said.

Parks commissioner Chris Duren said she is really excited about the amphitheater and the opportunity it, and other parks improvements, will bring for Jefferson City.

"The amphitheater is going to be such an addition that will bring multiple things, from concerts to theater productions, that we have not had a venue to do that from," Duren said. "I'm really excited for what it could do for arts in the community."

Mayor Carrie Tergin agreed, saying the amphitheater was very exciting.

"It's very cool to have this in Jefferson City," Tergin said. "This is a top-caliber type of venue."

A set of permanent bathrooms with eventually be added to the site, but they are not included in the existing construction contract with Versules Construction.

Parks staff are also working with Architects Alliance and the Master Gardeners on future plans for a new botanical garden at the park.

McClung Park

McClung Park's indoor pavilion — also known as the McClung Park Dancing Pavilion — has received a major face lift, adding modern touches to the 1916 building.

Large windows were added to provide more natural lighting and make the space feel larger, and bright pops of colorful paint bring a modern touch in between the older stone walls.

Up in the beams of the vaulted ceiling, lights with multi-color options add some fun options for potential events and dancing in the hall.

"The renovations are beautiful," Duren said. "To have an event space that's an appropriate size for people to rent for events is great. We don't have that in many other areas in the city."

Although some finishing touches are still being made to the interior, parks staff said they have already held an event or two in the pavilion.

Some parking lot improvements will also take place at McClung.

East Miller Park

East Miller Park, at 916 E. Miller St., was named as the No. 2 priority in the master plan in March 2018 when it was developed. No changes are currently being made.

However, in February the commission approved a proposal to potentially relocate the park across to the other side of U.S. 50 to allow for an expansion of the Jefferson City National Cemetery.

Now that the commission has given it's approval, the work has moved to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs for next decisions.

The plan is not completely finalized, but if the park were to move, JC Parks staff believes they will be creating a better park space for the community over on East Elm Street.

JC Parks will develop about .75 acres of land between East Elm Street and U.S. 50 into a new park, as well as upgrade the existing Park Place Neighborhood Park at the corner of Park Avenue and Center Street, just a few blocks away.

East Miller Park would've been upgraded within the next few years as part of an ongoing master plan, with estimated costs for the full upgrade around $3 million. Park Place Neighborhood Park was a low priority park, but to make up for a little bit of lost space, it will be added to the new plan.

The space at East Elm could include a splash park, a half-court basketball court, playground and other amenities, and Park Place would receive some upgrades including barbecue grills and a playground.

East Miller Park, after the parking lot space is subtracted, is about 2 acres. The two new spaces are about 0.75 acres each, meaning the new space is a little smaller. However, there is also the potential to add two full-size basketball courts in the area to make up for some of that loss.

Washington Park

Improvements at Washington Park, which includes Washington Park Ice Arena, are a little less eye-catching but are important for infrastructure.

Spalding said the department plans to do some work around the arena to improve storm water issues which caused the arena to flood previously. By removing some hard surfaces — which typically do not absorb water well — the department hopes to minimize flooding issues.

As part of a larger development at Missouri State Penitentiary, a two-sheet ice arena has been discussed, which would allow JC Parks to offer more skating and hockey programs. Jefferson City's ice arena is the only one available in a 90-mile radius.

In previous discussions, parks staff have mentioned the possibility of converting the current ice arena into a multi-purpose building, should the new arena be built at MSP.

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