February 18

Developer asks permission to build South Portland waterfront concert venue

The Liberty Ship Pavilion would overlook Portland Harbor.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A developer and prominent landowner is seeking permission to build a seasonal waterfront concert venue in South Portland, an idea originally pitched by city officials last year.

The outdoor venue would overlook Portland Harbor and seat as many as 10,000 people for seasonal concerts on a 23-acre site near Bug Light. If approved, it will be built on the last major piece of undeveloped waterfront in the city and be ready for events by this summer.

Representatives of developer and property owner John Cacoulidis are expected to appear before the Planning Board on Feb. 25 to ask for a special exception and modified site plan application approval for a concert pavilion at 149 Front St., said Tex Haeuser, the city’s planning and development director.

In city planning documents, the venue is referred to as Liberty Ship Pavilion.

“There’s a pretty strong demand for outdoor concert and festival venues in Greater Portland,” said Tom Moulton, an owner’s representative for the property.

Moulton said Cacoulidis is hoping to “springboard off the success” of the outdoor Mumford & Sons concert held two summers ago on the Eastern Promenade in Portland. There currently is no large, outdoor concert venue in the Portland area.

Last year, Jon Jennings, South Portland’s assistant city manager, pitched an idea for a waterfront venue that would host theater, concerts and commencement ceremonies from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The venue would have been on land leased by the city from Portland Pipe Line Corp., but Jennings’ plans did not include specifics about cost.

“It could have a measurable economic benefit, with people coming in from all over to see events and going to restaurants, staying in hotels and enjoying the entire area,” Jennings said in an interview last October.

Moulton said he has talked to concert promoters about the outdoor pavilion and has seen “a tremendous amount of interest” in the idea.

If built, the pavilion would be similar to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, which has attracted national performers such as Sting, Phish, Barenaked Ladies and Ke$ha.

Stephen Doe, a senior project manager with Sebago Technics who is working with Cacoulidis, outlined plans for both the grounds of the property and plans for parking in a letter to city officials. The 23-acre lot, a formerly developed site, would be cleaned of debris and smoothed out for easier access for both pedestrians and parking.

Renderings of plans for the site show the bandstand would be positioned closest to the water, providing concert-goers with a view of Portland Harbor. There would be two areas for food vendors to set up.

Doe said some parking would be on the property, but off-site parking would also be available nearby, including at Southern Maine Community College and Port Harbor Marine. The developers also are in talks with Portland Pipe Line officials to use their large vacant lots for parking, he said.

Doe said in the letter that project developers are working with the South Portland Police Department to address traffic issues before and after events.

Cacoulidis, owner of Hope Island in Casco Bay, bought the property near Bug Light Park in 1999 and has since proposed a number of developments. At one time, he wanted to build a towering convention center on the site, with cable cars spanning Portland Harbor. In 2011, the rusted steel skeleton of the last remaining industrial shed on the site where Liberty ships were built during World War II was removed.

Moulton said Cacoulidis will likely re-evaluate the use of the property after a year or two and consider using it for a larger-scale, mixed-use development.

“This is not likely to be a real long-term thing,” he said. “The city may eventually decide to do it themselves at an adjacent property if it’s successful.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: 

ggraham@pressherald.com

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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