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Microsoft in your community

Connecting the community with the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater in West Des Moines

The community of West Des Moines, Iowa sought a central gathering place for music and cultural events. Given that the city already had a centralized campus housing city hall, the public library, and two schools, it was decided that this campus was also ideal for creating an outdoor amphitheater overlooking a pond, named in honor of Jamie Hurd, a local arts and music lover who passed away in 2009.

Memorializing a local music lover

Based on community demand for an outdoor gathering space, West Des Moines mayor Steven Gaer approached the city’s Parks and Recreation Department about using space on the city’s campus for an amphitheater. The Parks and Recreation Department identified an ideal area on a hillside overlooking a pond right near many municipal buildings.

Once a location was selected, the city engaged a landscape architect to develop initial concepts and progressed to securing funding. Microsoft, who operates a datacenter in the area, donated funding for the construction. Local developer Richard Hurd and his family provided in-kind funding. The facility is named after Richard and Linda’s daughter, Jamie, who passed away in 2009 from lung aneurysm after a battle with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “The Hurd family told us that Jamie loved music and she loved West Des Moines, often taking walks around the pond,” City Manager Tom Hadden said. The remaining costs was covered by the City of West Des Moines, creating an ideal partnership with the city, its residents, and its corporate citizens. “In my opinion, it’s been this nice tie between one of our city’s very important corporate partners and then this long-time family that has lived here and raised their family here. It’s nice the way that funding came together for the project; without that, we wouldn’t be sitting here with the theater nearly done,” said Sally Ortgies, West Des Moines Director of Parks and Recreation.

Creating an outdoor community gathering place

The City of West Des Moines is looking forward to gathering community input on what they hope to see at the new amphitheater. “We’re looking at the amphitheater as being very much community-based. We recently sent out a survey to our residents to ask them, “What do you want to see happen at the amphitheater?” The thing that we quickly realized is that people want this to feel like their own,” said Ortgies. Because the amphitheater is essentially located in a neighborhood, the city is being cognizant of the noise level associated with the facility, which has lawn seating capacity for 2,000 and stage capacity for up to 50 musicians. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the amphitheater’s anticipated debut fall season has been drastically altered. However, the outdoor venue makes distancing more feasible than in indoor settings, and a grand opening celebration kicked off on September 16, 2020.

Kicking things off and looking forward to future events

In order to safely celebrate the opening of the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater, only a limited number of city officials, residents, and other invitees attended opening day celebrations. The Human Rights Commission, Public Arts Commission, Bicycle Advisory Commission, library board, and school board were all represented. “We’re really trying to find our partners here on campus and make sure that they are able to celebrate with us,” said Ortgies. Pre-registration is currently required for any events held at the amphitheater, and circles designate areas for each party to safely distance. “A lot of our world is outdoors now and we’re going to make it work through the pandemic,” explains Ortgies.

Illumifest, a fall festival of light held annually in West Des Moines since 2008, is being reconfigured to accommodate the restriction in large-group gatherings. For 2020, Illumifest changed to Illumifest RevAMPed, in part to celebrate the opening of the new amphitheater. The event will now be spaced across three evenings in September, and includes a Greater Des Moines Community Band concert, a public art reveal, a performance by local band Faculty Lounge, a fireworks display, an outdoor movie, and more family friendly activities. Although the amphitheater’s inaugural season looks different from anticipated, Ortgies notes, “We couldn’t open the amphitheater without doing something.”

Moving forward, the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater will be available for private event rentals, for things like weddings and reunions. In the future, the facility will continue to serve as an arts and culture hub for a variety of community events, including concerts, outdoor movies, festivals, and theatrical performances, bringing people together to share in innovative experiences.

“The Hurd family told us that Jamie loved music and she loved West Des Moines, often taking walks around the pond.”
Tom Hadden, West Des Moines City Manager