Plan for major outdoor concert space in South Portland on track for January presentation

South Portland Economic Development Director Jon Jennings said a concert venue at Bug Light Park, seen in this illustration by Sebago Technics, has great potential for the city, but needs much more study before it is presented to councilors.
Courtesy of Sebago Technics
South Portland Economic Development Director Jon Jennings said a concert venue at Bug Light Park, seen in this illustration by Sebago Technics, has great potential for the city, but needs much more study before it is presented to councilors.
Posted Oct. 24, 2013, at 3:43 p.m.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The city’s economic development director says he is already receiving calls asking about concert tickets at Bug Light next summer.

But plans for what could be a 10,000-seat outdoor arena on land already leased from Portland Pipe Line Co. are preliminary at best, Jon Jennings said Tuesday.

“The only way we would move forward with this [is] if it pays for itself and earns revenue for the city,” Jennings said about a pet project he hopes will invigorate the city arts scene and attract new visitors.

Jennings said it is an idea he has had almost since he was appointed in March, one that fits into an overall ambition to boost city economic growth in as many ways as possible.

But before music fans begin arriving at nearby Southern Maine Community College on Casco Bay Lines ferries to see live music and theatrical productions, Jennings said he needs data from a feasibility study.

Citing a University of Maine study on the $30 million impact of waterfront concerts in Bangor, Jennings said there is an opportunity for a temporary venue for shows between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

But he said he has no cost estimates ready to show city councilors and wants to be assured any upfront money from the city will be repaid, and then some, through surcharges on tickets and a lively summer of bookings.

“It is almost a venue in a truck, if you will. But if the numbers don’t pencil out, there is no venue,” he said.

Jennings said his findings will be ready for presentation by early January.

Some advantages are already evident, topped by the waterfront setting. Jennings also said acts playing in the Boston area could be enticed to come to South Portland because it is a short ride away, and the venue would be the only one of its kind in southern Maine.

“I [also] think we have the good beginnings of a traffic management plan,” Jennings said.

Although traffic congestion on Broadway is enough of an issue for SMCC to begin classes earlier in the day, Jennings said his conversations with police Chief Ed Googins indicate Broadway could handle traffic after a concert, especially with police stationed along the road.

He also envisions fans arriving by ferry from Portland and walking to the venue from the SMCC campus.

The cost of staffing by police and emergency responders will be written into performance contracts and not be a city expense, Jennings said.

If the feasibility plan findings justify moving forward, Jennings said he will also seek to have alcohol sales at concerts, calling it an “integral part of any successful venue.”

During the summer, councilors declined to amend a city ordinance to permit a beer sales tent for the first South Portland Buy Local festival, held in Bug Light Park.

Talks with SMCC officials are preliminary, but Jennings said he hopes potential parking revenue will pique the college’s interest.

“I just see this as one of those things that could potentially lift the entire region,” he said.

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