The mayor has proposed that a $160,000 donation from Daikin America be used by Decatur to install lights and sound at a downtown amphitheater that benefited from a past Daikin donation and bears the company's name.

Daikin, which has a chemical plant in Decatur, has donated $400,000 this year to support city and county projects. That includes $160,000 the company gave to the Morgan County Commission. The commission plans to use that money to pay for a portion of a $1 million recreation center in the Danville-Neel area. Daikin also made contributions to the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

Mayor Tab Bowling this week proposed to the City Council that the latest contribution go toward adding light and sound systems to the Daikin Amphitheater, which was built at Founders Park on the lawn of the Old State Bank.

Bowling said the city would be responsible for design, engineering and installation. He did not have an estimate on the city’s costs for the project.

“We hope to get some professional in-kind services,” Bowling said.

The $385,000 amphitheater opened in May 2015. The project began with a $100,000 contribution Daikin made in 2012. The city also received $125,000 in state grants.

David Breland, director of historic resources and events, helps manage amphitheater scheduling and bookings for the city Parks and Recreation Department. He said the amphitheater would benefit from the proposed upgrade.

"We've been approached by several groups that are recommending this to us, including some of our local theater groups who would like to use the amphitheater for outdoor events," Breland said Wednesday. "The lack of permanent lighting and a permanent sound system handicaps their efforts. They have to bring in their equipment, set it up, and then if it's a multiple-day event, store it somewhere and then set it back up."

He said he's also been approached about the need for permanent light and sound systems by groups that would like to host concerts at the venue.

"I think the additions would make it much more useful and versatile for us," he said. 

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said the amphitheater stays busy, especially in the spring and summer, but Councilwoman Kristi Hill said it could be busier.

“There’s a lot of interest in more activities and programming,” Hill said. “We need to have more concerts and events at the amphitheater.”

Lake said a number of amphitheater users have suggested “how nice it would be to have lights and sound.”

Lake said one problem encountered by groups wanting to use the venue for multi-day events is that they can't leave their equipment outside and unguarded.

Bowling said a large box for storage would be part of the project.

For its part, Daikin is fine with the proposed amphitheater improvements.

"Our primary guideline is that we would like for the city to use it for the benefit of all citizens of Decatur and Morgan County," Forrest Keith, spokesman for Daikin's Decatur plant, said Wednesday. "The amphitheater has been used a lot since it was built. Using (this year's) Daikin gift to upgrade it with sound and lights sound like a good use for the money."

In recent years, Daikin contributed to a number of projects in the city including helping the Princess Theatre Center for the Arts with its sign renovations, supplying black paint for the downtown street lights and buying playground equipment for children with physical disabilities at Morgan County’s Sparkman Elementary School.

The gifts this year were made in conjunction with the plant's 25th anniversary and its announcement of a planned $195 million expansion expected to add 50 jobs upon completion.

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bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

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