As a structure, it’s not much – one of those quaint, functional WPA projects. It has a simple concrete stage with an arched proscenium and a couple of iconic lanterns on pillars.

But as a symbol, the Devou Park Band Shell represents a lot. It’s been a gathering place for the Northern Kentucky community for 72 years, high on a hill, known for wholesome fun in the summertime — picnics, family gatherings, good music, great views.

The Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and the city of Covington would like to build on that nostalgic setting by upgrading the band shell stage and constructing a permanent home for the orchestra.

The Devou Park Band Shell, with its natural bowl amphitheater, was completed in the summer of 1939. It was immediately appreciated. In August of that year a crowd of 40,000 attended a kickoff concert. Over the years, all sorts of entertainers have performed there, including Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante and Vic Damone. Occasionally, performers playing the Beverly Hills Supper Club would pop up to the hill for an early set.

Over the last two decades the Devou Park setting has been the summer home for the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, staging three shows a season, often drawing up to 10,000 people. It has featured the KSO Boogie Band concerts and memorable nights with some of the region’s big-name pop acts such as Blessid Union of Souls.

James R. Cassidy, the KSO founding music director, thinks the band shell should play an even bigger role in Northern Kentucky’s summer fun calendar.

“The bottom line is to create a place that doesn’t really exist in our region — a weekly destination for free family culture and
entertainment in the summer months,” Cassidy says.

Cassidy’s band shell dream is two-fold:

• Increase the size of the stage, install permanent rigging and lights. Currently all production equipment has to be trucked in for each performance. Cassidy says turning the band shell into a properly equipped performance stage would make it easier for any entertainment group — from a rock band to an opera — to use the facility, opening the band shell to a wide array of entertainment options.

• Build a permanent structure behind the band shell that would be the home for the KSO, now entering its 20th season.

“Currently, the symphony is all over the place,” says Cassidy. “We have offices in one place, equipment in another, we rehearse somewhere else. We’d like to be under one roof in the park.” Cassidy envisions a building that would contain rehearsal space, offices and dressing rooms.

Cassidy says preliminary studies indicate the band shell renovations and the new KSO facility would cost $3.5 million. The KSO is doing a feasibility study on raising that money, and Cassidy hopes to soon launch a formal fundraising campaign.

Meanwhile, the city of Covington is all for the KSO’s plans and is already doing its part to improve the amphitheater’s infrastructure. Construction should start this year on a permanent concession stand and restrooms (none now exist), and the city is undertaking maintenance including structural repairs, electrical work and drainage.

“By next summer the new concession stands and restrooms should be open,” says Natalie Gardner, Covington’s recreation director. “That will lay the groundwork the KSO can build on, if it can come up with the funds to make Devou its home. We are very open to that happening.”

Gardner says the band shell infrastructure work is financed by $500,000 in capital improvement money it received the last five years from the privately operated Drees Pavilion at the Devou Park Overlook.

It makes sense for the orchestra to firmly plant itself in the park that has historically been a gathering point. After all, the KSO can lay claim to being one of the region’s key cultural institutions after two decades in which Cassidy has grown the KSO from a community group to a first-rate regional orchestra of 54 core players.

“It’s about connecting the generations, to continue what was started in 1939,” says Cassidy. “We need a place for families to gather and socialize and be entertained for free.

“We want to continue the memories so many people have of going to that band shell for concerts and make it a place to go for future generations.