December 5, 2012

Proposed music venue stirs debate on Munjoy Hill

A modern 400-seat performance hall is on the drawing board to replace a church structure at the corner of Congress and Munjoy streets.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

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This architect’s rendering shows a 54-foot tall structure with metal siding proposed by the Friends of the St. Lawrence Church.

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The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church are proposing the building of a modern 400-seat performance hall where the building's sanctuary once stood at 76 Congress Street in Portland.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Bryan Bruchman, a 32-year-old former hill resident who was in the neighborhood Tuesday visiting friends and working, agreed.

"It looks like it would be visually out of place with the neighborhood," said Bruchman, who runs the Hillytown blog about the Portland music scene.

Having the building stand out from its surroundings is by design, according to city staff.

Deb Andrews, the city's historic preservation program manager, said in a memo to the board that Lloyd designed the building to be a visual draw and clearly express the "dynamism" of the center.

"He has been very clear that these goals have driven the proposed architectural solution and that the conventional notion of compatibility was not the key objective in the design process," Andrews wrote. "In staff's view, the proposed addition is architecturally interesting in its own right and would likely be viewed as an exciting new design solution in another location, particularly within Portland's central business district."

Nice said she doesn't know how the board will react to the proposal during the informal workshop session Wednesday, but she believes the project would be a great addition to the neighborhood. She said Lloyd intends to use some of the stones and stained glass from the original sanctuary in the new building, but detailed drawings have not been prepared. The remaining material could be sold to raise money for the venue, she said.

"Whatever it ends up looking like -- it will be great," she said.

Nice said the venue will fill a much-needed niche in the theatre and music scene, which is already brimming with small and large music venues. She said 400- to 500-seat venues are scarce here and could attract mid-level regional acts at affordable ticket prices.

But Michael Leonard, the business development manager for the State Theatre, said the city may be at a breaking point in terms of venues.

While the new hall wouldn't compete with the 1,700-seat State Theatre, Leonard said, it could compete with shows the State books at other venues, such as the Empire, Space Gallery and Port City Music Hall.

"There are a lot of music venues," Leonard said.

"If all of those venues were selling out seven days a week then maybe we do need new venue. But we both know that's not the case."

Kippy Rudy, executive director of One Longfellow Square, said she doesn't think the hall would compete with the 200-seat venue at the corner of Congress and State streets. However, she did caution that profit margins in the music business are "razor thin."

"I wish them luck," Rudy said. "They're part of a vibrant neighborhood, which we have benefited from being close to the West End. If they're able to galvanize that support like they have done in the past, that bodes well for them."

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

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