New outdoor venue, community space coming to Stillwater
Steve Irby has been in Stillwater since 1948 and is donating $3.5 million to the City of Stillwater for a new park and amphitheater.
For years, Block 34 has been a lot of grass and used as a place for some city activities and events. However, plans have been set for the field to be the site of the park and amphitheater.
Irby said the new space is adding to the revitalization efforts in parts of the city, while providing a way to highlight music in Stillwater.
“I think the thing that would give me the most satisfaction is to see people enjoying it,” Irby said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Irby, the president and founder of Stillwater Designs/ KICKER, a speaker production company, was approached by the Stillwater Community Center Foundation to help fund the amphitheater.
Then, the pandemic hit. Although it paused the project, during this time Irby’s business grew, presenting him with an opportunity.
“Later, after these two years of COVID, business was actually very good,” Irby said. “So, I had the idea of getting back with him about that and giving him a donation to do the whole thing instead of just the amphitheater.”
Irby commissioned architect and OSU alum Dan Ankarak, and landscape architect and alum, Stanton Espinoza to design the new city’s gathering space. Irby was shown three concepts of what the lot would be transformed into, and he decided on the design.
There are existing music venues in Stillwater like the McKnight Center, but Norman McNickle, Stillwater’s city manager, said this project is different because it will be open to the public all day with no rental or booking fee.
“It's been a long journey, even before my time as city manager there was a lot of talk about what to do with that vacant lot,” McNickle said.
The city has other initiatives aimed at improving the city, such as updating and relocating the fire station, providing better roads and a no-kill animal shelter. McNickle said the projects are aimed at keeping young people from wanting to leave.
“We want to make Stillwater a place that’s attractive to everyone, but in particular younger folks who have talents and can be put to work here,” McNickle said.
This donation thrusted the project forward. McKickle said having a solidified plan for the lot has put years of head scratching, around 50 public hearings and innumerable meetings to rest.
Most of Irby’s donation will go toward construction and the foundation will receive the balance from it. This will help fund the development and delivery of 14 evening music events and other programming for 10 years on the block.
McNickle felt a sense of relief when he heard Stillwater Designs/KICKER was going to fund the project.
“It was jaw dropping,” McNickle said.
After official approval, construction on the block could begin as early as next summer and will take about a year to be completed.