June 20, 2018
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Outdoor concert venue being considered in South Portland

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — With views of Peaks Island, the Portland skyline and shimmering lights on the water, Bug Light attracts kite flyers, tourists and cyclers. Next summer it could add the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the Boston Pops to its ranks.

That’s if South Portland’s Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings has his way.

The town official, who brought the Red Claws to Maine and worked for the Boston Celtics, has identified a parcel of land adjacent to Bug Light Park for a seasonal performing arts venue.

“This is something that we’ve been working on and are very interested in pursuing,” said Jennings, who wants to bring world-class outdoor entertainment to a plot of land that the city leases from Portland Pipe Line Corp. “The City Council needs to approve it. We are working on financial models. It’s the at the very early stage.”

Too early to go before the council. “There is still a lot of work to do,” said Jennings, who has not pulled permits or submitted plans.

His concept is a venue that goes up Memorial Day, is dismantled after Labor Day and accommodates up to 10,000 people. Ideally, it would be able to host Shakespeare in the Park as well as school commencements.

“It’s a beautiful site right on the water. We want to make it spectacular,” Jennings said.

But before that happens, the concept has to be approved by the City Council, which could take months.

“Our hope is to think about concerts later next summer. We want to make sure it’s the right thing and not negatively impact the city,” said Jennings, who is looking north for inspiration.

Though the South Portland Performing Arts Venue is not out to compete with Bangor’s Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Jennings is impressed with the city’s Penobscot River stage that attracted top talent like Phish and Sting last summer.

“Bangor has had great success with their venue,” said Jennings. “They’ve done a lot to eliminate negativity in the downtown area.”

Despite the success, some Bangor residents still have concerns and complaints regarding concert noise versus the economic activity these shows usher in. Last summer the city council held public workshops to mitigate unrest.

Jennings, a former professional basketball executive, says he knows the entertainment business and wants to avoid similar flare ups.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. has given South Portland permission to move forward to explore the concept.

“We have been working on what it could potentially look like. Putting numbers on paper,” said Jennings, who does not yet know how much the amphitheater would cost.

“The great thing about this concept is, if the city invests in developing the venue, we would get it back on ticketing fees and not expose the taxpayers,” said Jennings.

But don’t start staking out your spots on the grass yet.

“There is a lot that goes into it. You can’t just turn the spigot on. You have to make sure it works financially,” Jennings said.

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