A Portland nonprofit group has filed plans at City Hall for a new performance hall on Munjoy Hill, even though it has yet to make a dent in the $10 million needed to finance the project.

Deirdre Nice, executive director of the Friends of the St. Lawrence, said she hopes that donors will be more willing to invest in the 400-seat performance hall at 76 Congress St. after the site plan is approved.

“We thought perhaps it would be more attractive to potential donors if we had a shovel-ready project,” Nice said. “If we don’t raise $10 million in a year, we’d have to go through site plan again.”

Nice attributed the difficulty in fundraising to the recent presidential election, which occupied the attention – and wallets – of potential donors.

“Now that that’s over, perhaps people have more interest in preserving arts and artistic endeavors during a time we all might need a little release,” she said.

Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said that he will encourage the organization to support the project, should it prove to be controversial, as long as parking concerns are adequately addressed.


“It’s a beautiful structure,” Norris said. “I think we should very much support it. That place (the St. Lawrence) is a gem and it brings only good to the community.”

The Friends of the St. Lawrence was formed in 1996 with the goal of restoring the old Gothic-style St. Lawrence Church and sanctuary with its 85-foot-tall bell tower, built in 1897.

The group successfully renovated the stone and granite parish hall, which now has 110 seats for small theater productions and musical performances. However, renovating the large sanctuary and bell tower – estimated to cost over $17 million – proved to be too expensive. Both were demolished in 2008.

Instead, the friends group unveiled a plan in 2012 to build a new contemporary performance hall at the corner of Congress and Munjoy streets. The project’s original size and design prompted opposition in the community, which voiced concerns about its style and parking.

Over the next two years, the group refined the design and addressed parking concerns, resulting in the City Council approving a conditional zoning agreement in 2014 that allowed the group to proceed with the project without providing off-street parking. The group agreed to provide $70,000 to the Metro bus system to increase service on the hill, with the hope that people would avoid parking on neighborhood streets. The Metro payment would be funded through a $5 surcharge on tickets.

The final design includes a perforated metal exterior, with the use of granite on the lower level and glass walls on the top floor. The city’s Historic Preservation Board would need to sign off on the proposal, Nice said.


Munjoy Hill resident Ralph Carmona, who was a member of the Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill, which opposed the proposal, said he still doesn’t think the city has adequately addressed traffic and parking issues. However, Carmona doesn’t believe that raising those concerns would have any impact before the Planning Board, given the conditional zoning agreement approved by the council. Carmona doubts that the friends group will be able to raise enough money to move forward with the project anyway. “I’m not sure it’s going to make a bit of difference,” he said of any site plan approval.

The group is trying to re-energize the project at a time when Munjoy Hill is undergoing rapid gentrification.

The new performance hall also would include a promenade banquet room, with glass walls, on the top floor of the 52-foot-tall building. Nice said that room, which would provide a 360-degree view of the city, ocean and mountains, would be used to raise money by hosting corporate events. However, when the room is not being rented, it would be made available to other nonprofit and school groups, which often have trouble finding affordable space to host their own fundraisers.

“We’re not another condo project,” Nice said. “We’re a community arts project. I think we would be such an amazing addition to the neighborhood for not only our neighbors but also local schools.”


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