A SPRING CONCERT series kicked off this month at a downtown San Jose park, and despite an ongoing lawsuit, organizers will not be deterred.

Friends of Levitt Pavilion San Jose, a nonprofit, hosted its first Sunday springtime concert in St. James Park on May 21, the latest step in establishing a permanent outdoor performance venue. The shows will continue to take place even though opponents of the pavilion have filed an appeal in a contentious lawsuit aimed at stopping plans to revamp the park, which has struggled with crime and homelessness.

“There’s a lot that’s coming to the park to keep it active and healthy,” Friends of Levitt Pavilion Chair Fil Maresca told San José Spotlight. “We strongly believe that building the pavilion will kick off regular activations and when the park is being used, the more people that use the park, the more attractive and safe the park becomes.”

Progress on the pavilion has faced various setbacks. While the city announced plans to build the Levitt Pavilion in 2016 with hopes of having live music, dog parks, cafes and more, the COVID-19 pandemic  delayed the project. Then, a 2020 lawsuit threw another wrench in the process, as the Sainte Claire Historic Preservation Foundation sued the city for allegedly violating historic preservation rules and environmental review processes for the park. The city temporarily claimed victory in the suit last April.

“The city received the judgment in favor of the city,” Ed Bautista, spokesperson for San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, told San José Spotlight. “The Sainte Claire Club has appealed it and we’re hopeful that a decision from the courts will be scheduled by the beginning of next year.”

The Sainte Claire Historic Preservation Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

See you next Sunday

But the lawsuit isn’t stopping concert organizers.

Maresca said the series will continue every Sunday through June 18, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. weekly with free admission. Each concert features activities for kids and a wine and beer garden. The nonprofit’s efforts are supported by its parent company Levitt Foundation, which transforms parks into music venues nationally. Friends of Levitt Pavilion San Jose hosted its first concerts last fall, garnering 300 to 500 attendees per event, he added.

Levitt Concert Series Director Annie Hermes said the shows have already attracted families, with kids, picnic blankets and pets in tow. She said the events provide high-quality music while also supporting underrepresented artists such as female musicians or musicians of color.

“It’s been really beautiful to see. … This is becoming their Sunday afternoon habit,”

Annie Hermes, Levitt Concert Series director

“It’s been really beautiful to see. … This is becoming their Sunday afternoon habit,” Hermes told San José Spotlight. “It’s very comfortable and just kind of like a lazy afternoon in what is truly an underappreciated park in San Jose.”

Maresca said the next step in revitalizing St. James Park would be establishing an official agreement between Friends of Levitt Pavilion San Jose, Levitt Foundation and the city’s parks department. Once that’s approved by the San Jose City Council, work would begin on fundraising and construction. Estimates have the park project at approximately $60 million, and Friends of Levitt plans to raise between $15 million and $20 million, he added.

Concerts will continue even if the redevelopment of the park takes years, Maresca said, adding that previous concerts have already proven these are community building events. The next series will be held in October, he added.

“We finally said, ‘Okay, we’re done waiting.’ We’re just going to start producing shows and let people know what we can do,” he said.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at loan-anh@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.