PORTLAND – The design for a proposed addition to the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center on Munjoy Hill is getting better, say the city’s experts on historic preservation, but it’s not good enough yet.

Rich Romano, chairman of Portland’s Historic Preservation Board, said Wednesday night that the board may need to hold two or three more workshops before members will feel comfortable approving the design for a contemporary 401-seat performance hall.

But several members told the project’s architect, David Lloyd, that he is “heading in the right direction.”

Lloyd, who was hired by the nonprofit Friends of the St. Lawrence to design the project, thanked the board for its input.

“That was a great critique. I’m going to go back and work on some of these issues,” he said.

The board is responsible for making sure the building at 76 Congress St. blends in with the surrounding neighborhood and the adjacent parish hall that makes the site a historic landmark. The performance hall also will need approval from the city’s Planning Board, in a review process that has not begun.

The parish hall is all that remains of the 19th century, Gothic-style St. Lawrence Church. The sanctuary fell into disrepair over time and was torn down in 2008. The parish hall, which seats 110 people, is used for small musical events and theater.

St. Lawrence Executive Director Dierdre Nice told the board that a 401-seat performance hall would produce enough revenue to pay for maintenance of the parish hall.

But several Munjoy Hill residents spoke against the project, saying it would be too large and overwhelm the neighborhood.

Munjoy Hill resident Vana Carmona said the performance hall and a glass-walled promenade room on top of the 52-foot building would block ocean views and tower above surrounding buildings, including the historic Portland Observatory.

“The real beacon on the Hill is the Observatory, not this hall. There is something about that I find very disturbing,” Carmona said.

“It’s too big. It’s too modern and doesn’t belong on the Hill,” said Joan Sheedy. “I don’t see why we need a 400-seat theater. The parking will be horrendous come winter.”

But Jamie Isaacson, who described himself as a musical producer, said the new theater would “be a tremendous asset to our community,” bringing shows and acts that the city now can’t accommodate.

“This is the right-sized theater. We don’t have this in our town,” Isaacson said.

Romano suggested that the height of the performance hall be reduced.

“Even if you could reduce the height by a few inches, I think it would make a world of difference, especially to the people who came here tonight,” Romano said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]