Traffic and parking will take center stage when a proposal to build a 400-person performance hall on Munjoy Hill in Portland resurfaces this week at two community meetings.

The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church want to build a contemporary music hall next to a historic parish hall. The new hall would have a perforated metallic skin with a granite base and a glass-walled promenade room for functions.

The friends group scrapped a more ambitious plan to reconstruct the 1897 Gothic sanctuary, including the 85-foot-tall bell tower, in favor of a less expensive, more contemporary performance hall.

The group’s executive director, Deirdre Nice, said potential investors balked at the $17 million price for the historic rebuild, but are open to the new $7 million design.

The new design, unveiled in late 2012, has split neighborhood residents, who want to support their local arts center but are concerned about the building’s size and the potential traffic impact.

Opponents believe the 54-foot-tall building is too large for the neighborhood and that there isn’t enough parking to accommodate a 400-person venue.


Supporters, meanwhile, believe the hall will be good for local businesses and neighborhood residents, many of whom will be able to walk to the venue.

Willis Street resident Katie Wallace, who works as a bartender at the Blue Spoon restaurant at 89 Congress St., believes the benefits of the hall would outweigh any inconvenience around show times.

“It’s beneficial for all the businesses here,” Wallace said.

On Thursday afternoon, she said, the restaurant was booked solid with reservations because of a show in the St. Lawrence Parish Hall, which seats 110 people.

In 2010, the City Council granted the friends group a conditional zoning agreement to rebuild the sanctuary in the residential neighborhood, but that 10-year agreement does not carry over to the contemporary design.

A new zoning agreement must be approved by the Planning Board and City Council before the project can receive its site plan approvals.


In 2010, parking was a big issue, because attendees would be relying on on-street parking. And it is expected to be an issue this time around, too.

To supplement the on-street parking, the friends group plans to offer a free shuttle service for people using public parking lots on Cutter Street, which leads to East End Beach, and ticket discounts to patrons who arrive on public transportation.

“The parking concerns are real,” said Nice. “There’s a real parking crunch and then there is a perceived parking crunch.”

At two community meetings this week – at 7 p.m. Monday at the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization’s Hill House at 92 Congress St. and at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Lawrence Parish Hall – the friends group will present a new parking study that suggests the parking crunch on Munjoy Hill is more perception than reality.

The study, conducted by Gorrill Palmer, is based on three parking counts – before and during a show to see how concerts in the 110-person Parish Hall affected parking, and one at midnight to assess resident parking needs.

During an Oct. 25 show with 103 people in attendance, there were 544 vehicles parked on the street within a five-minute walk from the hall between 5:45 p.m. and 7 p.m., the study said. That number swelled to 664 – a 120-vehicle increase – by 9:10 p.m.


The midnight count found that there were 274 available parking spaces within a five-minute walk of Parish Hall, including 95 spaces along Cutter Street, the study said.

The number of open spaces observed at midnight surprised 53-year-old Catherine Waycotte, who lives on Beckett Street.

“We’re so hard up for parking now,” she said. “I have a parking spot, but I can’t tell you how many times I see people circling the block, circling the block.”

Ross Fields, a board member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and a member of Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill, which formed in response to the hall proposal, believes the study casts too broad a net to find enough parking.

He believes the new hall will draw patrons from surrounding communities who will arrive in cars and will want convenient parking that’s closer than a five-minute walk away. He fears that patrons will circle the block looking for spaces and clog Congress Street when they drop off passengers.

If congestion is too bad, and people can’t park close to the hall, Fields worries people will stop going to performances.


“What we don’t want to see is this building go up and become vacant,” Fields said.

The study predicts the hall would require a maximum of 218 parking spaces, or 0.45 spaces per attendee. An additional 10 spots would be needed for employees.

Without including parking spaces on Cutter Street, the survey found 179 on-street parking spots within a five-minute walk available one night last December.

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue said officials should take a close look at the study’s assumptions that people will be willing to walk five minutes to the hall and that only one out of every two people will bring a car. Theater audiences tend to be older and more car-centric, Donoghue said.

The midnight count found 72 spaces were available within a three-minute walk, or within a 540-foot radius, according to the study.

“It’s a broad analysis for something that will have an acute impact,” Donoghue said.


While there may not be a parking crunch today, Donoghue said he understands people’s concerns, given the amount of development on the hill.

“I think it’s less a description of reality than it is anxiety about what’s around the corner,” he said.

Nice said the theater would heavily promote the free shuttle service to and from the Cutter Street lots and offer discounted tickets to people who use public transportation.

Donoghue said other policies may be needed to lessen the impact on the neighborhood, including restricting the hours of operation for the hall, expanding public bus service and establishing a resident parking permit program for the hill.

Cami Smalley, 36, an Eastern Promenade resident who was having coffee at the Hilltop Coffee House on Thursday afternoon, said she’d love to see more entertainment in the neighborhood, as long as city planners can work out the design and traffic issues.

“I would love to have more opportunities for theater, but I don’t want it to impede everyone’s lifestyle,” she said.

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

Twitter: @randybillings

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