Portland city officials have rejected an offer by Waterfront Concerts to enter into a 10-year contract to stage pop music shows on the Maine State Pier, saying they want to explore permanent development options for the 7-acre pier.

What that means for the future of concerts on the pier beyond the 12 scheduled for the rest of this year – including The Disco Biscuits, Pat Benatar, Slightly Stoopid and Primus – is unclear.

Waterfront Concerts has staged more than 50 shows there in the past two summers. City Manager Jon Jennings said officials would be happy to see the Bangor-based promoter continue to operate there, under the type of short-term agreements used recently.

The head of Waterfront Concerts, Alex Gray, did not return phone calls and emails Monday and Tuesday. The company’s production manager, Jon Dow, said only Gray could comment on the matter.

Waterfront Concerts gave its proposal to city officials at a meeting Friday, including a list of improvements that the company would make if granted a long-term contract, such as adding grandstand seating and possibly a roof over the audience area. Shows at the 3,000-capacity pier now offer folding chairs and standing room.

“In the meeting, they gave us every indication they were very interested in continuing to have concerts in Portland in the future, either at the pier or another location,” Jennings said. “They understood why we weren’t able to talk about a long-term agreement.”


Jennings said Tuesday that city officials, led by the City Council’s economic development committee, are in the midst of determining the best permanent future use of the city-owned pier and the adjacent 90,000-square-foot Portland Ocean Terminal, a shed-like building with whales painted on the side that’s been used for a variety of marine purposes over the years. The pier is mostly a vacant, park-like space except for when it’s filled with concert-goers.

Jennings stressed that the decision had nothing to do with noise complaints from residents when concerts happen at the pier, including 45 lodged with the city in 2016. He also said the decision has nothing to do with Gray’s arrest in March after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend in Portland. He was charged with domestic violence assault, a misdemeanor, and was released on $750 cash bail. He is scheduled to appear in court May 24 in Portland.


About a decade ago, two developers offered proposals for the pier area that included shops, restaurants, hotel space and offices – each estimated to cost more than $90 million. Neither of those proposals worked out, for a variety of reasons, and the economy took a downward turn. But construction along the east end of the waterfront, near the pier, has been brisk lately, and officials think the time is right to start planning for its inevitable development.

Local businesses have appreciated that shows by Waterfront Concerts have brought people into the area to eat at restaurants and stay at hotels, said Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, a business improvement group. From a business standpoint, Gilbert said, the best use of the pier as a way to attract customers is probably a mixed-used development with residential and retail components.

“Waterfront Concerts has brought some great acts to the city, and certainly it’s brought people in to eat and shop, and that’s a benefit,” said Gilbert. “However, I trust that the city is looking to find the best use of that property for the greater good.”


Robyn Violette, general manager of the nearby Fore Street restaurant, said parking on concert nights continues to be a problem, adding to traffic congestion. But she would not want concerts on the pier to go away completely.

Besides the economic activity it helps create, the concerts provide some revenue for the city. In 2016, the city made about $87,000 from the shows, said Communications Director Jessica Grondin, including rent for the pier plus a portion of ticket and concession sales. The city took in about $255,000, but expenses such as cleanup and maintenance totaled about $168,000.

In its six-page proposal to the city, Waterfront Concerts said it already had invested $1.3 million to make the pier a better venue, but Jennings said those are temporary items that can be moved, including the stage and dressing room structures. The proposal said the company would make major improvements in the next three to five years, including stadium seating in grandstands that could accommodate 1,000 people or more.

The company also proposed building a better stage, either permanent or mobile, with more areas for rigging equipment overhead, and possibly adding a roof over much of the pier for weather protection and to minimize noise. The proposal doesn’t say how much the improvements would cost.

The proposal cited the length of a potential city agreement as “the one factor that will guide investment.” It suggested options for a 10-year agreement, with one or three 10-year renewals. With the longest possible term, Waterfront Concerts would fully develop the pier with a tensile roof, stage house and fixed grandstand.



The Maine State Pier concert series has brought major pop music acts to Portland just about every week in the summer for the past two years. Before Waterfront Concerts’ first large slate of shows on the pier in 2015, the city hosted maybe one or two major outdoor concerts a summer. Major acts routinely bypassed Portland for Bangor on summer tours, where Waterfront Concerts has been hosting outdoor shows at the city-owned Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion for about seven years. The capacity there is more than 15,000.

Other shows booked for the state pier this summer include Kid Ink with French Montana and Khalid, Billy Currington, 311, Lifehouse and Switchfoot, Dark Star Orchestra, Gov’t Mule, Joe Bonamassa and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Some of the acts that performed at the state pier last year included Jackson Browne, The Beach Boys, Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt and Blues Traveler.

Portland added another outdoor concert venue in 2015 at Thompson’s Point, where concertgoers set up their chairs in a grassy field along the Fore River. There are more than a dozen shows scheduled there for the rest of this year, including The XX, Ween, The Shins, Michael Franti, My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello, Wilco, Alabama Shakes, Guster and Trey Anastasio Band.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:


Twitter: RayRouthier

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