October 20, 2013

No disharmony over South Portland venue plan

Those in the performing arts business would consider it a complement, not a competitor.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

An outdoor performing arts center at Bug Light Park in South Portland that could seat as many as 10,000 people would not pose a threat to other concert venues in Maine and northern New England, say those in the performing arts business.

click image to enlarge

South Portland officials are proposing an outdoor performing arts venue next to Bug Light Park. It would be built to operate in the summer and be taken down in the off-season, similar to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.

2012 Press Herald file photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

click image to enlarge

If anything, they say, a new outdoor venue could complement existing concert facilities.

“There is absolutely room for a successful venue like that in the Portland area,” said Nick Bloom of Bloom Arts & Events, a Portland promoter who books acts for L.L. Bean’s Summer in the Park series and other northern New England performing arts locations.

Bloom and others were reacting to South Portland’s plan, unveiled Friday, for space next to Bug Light Park, a popular spot for viewing boat traffic and for kite flying. South Portland officials have been working on the plan for a performing arts center for months, said Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, the former general manager of the Maine Red Claws basketball team who was hired earlier this year to bring jobs and businesses to the city.

The outdoor performance center, within easy walking distance of Southern Maine Community College, would be built to operate in the summer and be taken down in the off-season, similar to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.

The hope is that the venue would attract big-name acts that now bypass Portland, where the city’s largest venue, the Cumberland County Civic Center, can seat only 8,000 people.

The 9-acre Bug Light Park is the terminus for the Greenbelt Walkway and home to the South Portland Historical Society. The outdoor venue, tentatively named the South Portland Performing Arts Venue, would be next to the water immediately east of the park on land owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp.

The city is also talking to Casco Bay Lines about ferry service to the park to mitigate potential parking problems and traffic congestion in the area.

There are no large outdoor concert facilities in the Portland area, although some events have been hosted on the Eastern Promenade, such as the daylong concert by the British folk group Mumford & Sons that drew 15,000 people last year.

Other outdoor locations in northern New England include Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion on the Penobscot River in Bangor, which can seat 16,000 and where Bob Dylan, Sting, Jason Mraz and Keith Urban have appeared, and the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook – formerly known as Meadowbrook Farm, on Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford, N.H. – an amphitheater that can seat 8,000 and has attracted John Mayer, Ke$ha and other acts.

Bloom said a South Portland performance space, if marketed right, would not necessarily compete with other outdoor venues, including in Bangor, now the leader in outdoor performance venues in northern New England.

He said Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion tends to book heavy metal and country music.

“They have a very different ticket buyer and demographic than what you can do down here,” said Bloom.

Bloom said Portland could draw from the Boston market and aim at ticket buyers whose musical tastes run more toward acts such as the Dave Matthews Band and other alternative rock musicians.

John Porter, chief executive officer and president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, said he is not worried about competition from the southern part of the state.

He said the Bangor waterfront venue draws from rural Maine and eastern Canada. He said it has been a huge success and a big boost to the local economy.

“Anytime there is a concert, we sell out of every hotel in the city. If there is a big show, particularly the country acts, the hotels will get sold out all the way down to Waterville,” said Porter.

He said concert-goers spend money. While in town they dine out, shop at the Bangor Mall and visit the Hollywood Slots casino. The new Cross Insurance Center arena, which can accommodate up to 8,000 concert-goers, has made the city an entertainment destination, said Porter.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the Cumberland County Civic Center Board of Trustees, said he does not see an outdoor performance venue as competition for the civic center, now undergoing a $33 million renovation.

“The summer season is the slow season” for the civic center, said Pratt.

Portland promoter Bloom said the civic center and a South Portland outdoor venue could, in fact, coordinate their marketing efforts and complement each other.

“If it is carefully done, and they coordinate both venues and go about it that way, they can coexist,” said Bloom.

Cost estimates of the South Portland facility are not yet available. Jennings, the assistant city manger, said a cost-feasibility study is the next step in the planning process.

Jennings said city officials plan to bring the proposal before the City Council early next year and there would be public feedback opportunities during the entire process. He said if it goes ahead, the outdoor venue could be operating by next summer.

Beth Quimby can be reached at 791-6363 at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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