Thousands of people will get their first chance to see the ongoing redevelopment of Thompson’s Point, a 30-acre former railroad yard, when a 5,000-capacity open-air concert venue opens there on Sunday.

The first show will be by pop singer Ingrid Michaelson, and at least three more are scheduled this summer for the venue, which features a sprawling new lawn on the edge of the Fore River. The developers, Forefront Partners, plan to host other events this summer as well, including a beer festival and a circus festival.

Music fans on Sunday will walk down dirt roads and past a couple of massive, weathered brick buildings to get to the concert area at the tip of Thompson’s Point. With their backs to the water, the audience’s view will be mostly of the old industrial property as well.

Forefront Partners plans over the next several years to turn the area into a destination neighborhood combining new construction and renovated 100-year-old buildings, said Chris Thompson, a principal in the development firm. The plan calls for the concert venue and the few businesses there now to be joined by restaurants, a brewery, Cellardoor Winery (next year), a hotel (in 2017), an events center and condominiums.

The music venue stands out among outdoor concert and event spaces in Portland because of its size, its grass surface, and the fact that it’s privately owned. The only other Portland venue regularly hosting national music acts this summer, the 3,000-capacity Maine State Pier, is a concrete pier owned by the city and leased on a per-show basis to Bangor-based Waterfront Concerts.

“We want this to be a neighborhood that adds to Portland, that helps makes it the kind of place we all want to live in, that people want to come to,” said Thompson, 40, whose company began planning the Thompson’s Point development about six years ago and who only coincidentally shares his name with the land. “We want to do things right.”


Part of “doing things right,” Thompson said, was taking his time to find the right partner to help run the outdoor concert venue.

Thompson has unusual credentials for a real estate developer, including a doctorate in cultural history and a teaching stint at Maine College of Art. That helps explain, to some degree, why the early tenants of the 30-acre parcel on the Fore River being developed by Thompson’s Forefront Partners include the Circus Conservatory of America, the Color Me Mine pottery studio and a public workspace called Open Bench Project.

Last fall, his company began a partnership with the 1,800 capacity State Theatre on Congress Street in Portland, run by Lauren Wayne. Wayne also runs the Port City Music Hall in Portland, with a capacity of more than 500, and books more than 200 shows a year at various venues in Portland. She says she has long been looking for a venue that is larger than the State Theatre, so she’d have a place to book acts that draw larger crowds.

Wayne’s idea is to book up-and-coming acts into a small Portland club, then as their fan base grows and they return to Portland, to book them into Port City, the State Theatre and finally, at Thompson’s Point. The site could hold as many as 8,000 people, but attendance will be capped this year at 5,000.

Wayne says she and the State Theatre’s owners have been looking for an outdoor venue in Portland since taking over the State Theatre in 2010. Because musical acts now make most of their money from touring, rather than record sales, the number of acts on tour year-round continues to grow. Wayne has booked some outdoor shows on the paved surface at the Ocean Gateway marine terminal off Commercial Street. And she booked one day-long festival on Portland’s Eastern Promenade in 2012, which featured Mumford & Sons as headliners and drew some 15,000 people.

But both of those sites have drawbacks for a concert promoter. They are owned by the city, and using the Eastern Promenade for an event often requires closing city streets.

Wayne likes that Thompson’s Point is privately owned and, as a partner in the venue, she is not anyone’s tenant. Wayne said there could be more concerts this year, maybe as many as six total.


Forefront Partners has spent about $800,000 to clear and level the concert venue, put down grass, bring in utilities and renovate a small cinder block building for dressing rooms and staff space. A 72-by-40-foot stage will be rented for concerts, but the only permanent structure on the site is a train shed roof, 85 by 156 feet, supported by a giant metal frame. That will house concessions, including beer and wine. Food will be sold from various local food trucks.

There will be no fixed or portable seating, though people can bring low beach chairs and blankets to sit on, Wayne said.

The group has plans for picnic tables near the water and eventually a clam shack on the lawn as well.

Parking for about 800 cars will be available on site for $20, with other lots nearby. Tickets for Sunday’s concert are being sold for $30 to $35.

The audience will be on the lawn, near the water but facing inland toward the old brick buildings and the stage. Thompson and Wayne said they wanted the stage to face the water to mitigate noise. The lawn is ringed by a waterfront walking path that is part of the Portland Trails system, meaning people can walk or bike to the site, which is just behind the Portland Transportation Center, with bus and trail access. A dock is planned so people can have water access to the site.

Eric Flynn, a real estate agent and music fan from Portland, said he has already gone to shows on the Maine State Pier this summer and is looking forward to seeing a show on Thompson’s Point, either Primus or Grace Potter. He likes the fact that there’s a soft lawn to lounge on, and that he’s not going to be constricted to sitting in a chair. He also thinks the competition from Waterfront Concerts, which is hosting more than two dozen outdoor shows on the Maine State Pier this summer, is likely to mean he and other music fans will see more shows than ever this year.

Mostly because outdoor shows are more fun, more of an experience.

“I usually go to maybe six shows a year, but I’ll see lot more this summer,” said Flynn, 46. “I used to go to Bangor (to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion) to see outdoor shows, but now I don’t have to.”