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The board of directors of Shakespeare in the Park has agreed to start performances at 7:30 p.m., a half hour earlier than past years, to accommodate irate residents living near Delaware Park.

The board met privately today with Public Works Commissioner David Comerford to iron out problems with parking near the site, noise and the park's closing time.

Last week Common Council refused to release $300,000 to build a new stage for the performances until complaints by park neighbors had been resolved.

"I think we've made an enormous step toward addressing those concerns . . . by agreeing to start at 7:30," Neil E. Garvey, board president for Shakespeare in the Park, said after today's meeting. "We're very hopeful that funding will go forward. After all this is a free public benefit for all the people of Buffalo."

The Council is expected to consider the issue Tuesday.

Garvey said a monitoring committee, under auspices of the Public Works Department, has been proposed to investigate neighbors' complaints about Shakespeare in the Park and find remedies.

"Many of those issues have less to do with (Shakespeare in the Park) than they do with the general increase in activity of that area of the park," Garvey said. "There's the restoration to the casino, improvements to the lake; other improvements there are attracting more and more people down there."

Some of those who have complained might be angry about the increased park traffic, which is not necessarily the fault of Shakespeare in the Park, Garvey added.

The new, removable stage was designed to satisfy not only the theater group but also the Delaware Park Steering Committee, Garvey noted.

"After performances, there will be no sign (that the stage) was there at all," Garvey said. "That hill will be restored to its rightful condition" after the season is over.

The new stage will not have to be constructed from scratch each season. It also can be stored indoors, preventing deterioration.

"This will cut our costs by as much as 75 percent," Garvey said. "If (funding for the) stage doesn't go forward we're in a very tight spot."

Planning for the stage has been under way at least since 1991 but encountered delays in getting architectural renderings. All the submitted bids came in lower than estimates, Garvey said.

"We will never find a less expensive time or get a better value for our dollar than now," he said.

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