Bon voyage to Portland’s Old Port Festival

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PORTLAND — The giant puppet parade will hit the end of the road June 9.

Saying the Old Port Festival has “has had a spectacular run,” Portland Downtown Executive Director Casey Gilbert announced Tuesday the festival will be celebrated for the 46th and final time this year.

“The Old Port Festival has created joyous memories for thousands of people – and our organization has been a proud steward of the event for the past 20 years,” Gilbert said, then added it is time for Portland Downtown to move on and shift its focus to other events.

The festival began as the neighborhood was being revitalized, and was marked by the traditional Exchange Street parade led by puppets from Shoestring Theater.

Following the parade, a movable feast of music, food, games and crafts filled Old Port streets through Sunday afternoon.

In recent years, Portland Downtown made the festival a capstone of its Summer Weekend Kickoff, climaxing events that begin on Friday evenings.

New staples sponsored by Portland Downtown include “Shop for a Cause Day,” when business owners contribute proceeds to a designated nonprofit, and “Walk the Working Waterfront,” which opens piers and wharves along Commercial Street for public view.

“We fully intend to continue the Summer Kickoff Weekend,” Gilbert said of events beyond this year.

Portland Downtown is a nonprofit encompassing the Arts District along Congress Street and the Old Port. District property owners are assessed additional taxes to help pay for operations, and Gilbert said the time has come to focus on other services and programs offered.

Those include the annual Christmas Tree Lighting in Monument Square,  Downtown Worker Appreciation Day, the summer cadet program in partnership with city police, displaying annual winter light sculptures created by local artist Pandora LaCasse, and the peer outreach program with Amistad services to help people in distress on the streets.

While noting the Old Port Festival was “a resource-intensive event,” Gilbert said the decision to end it was not based on the financial strain.

“One thing I am proud of is to make sure all of our events are either revenue neutral or provide a little bit of revenue to supplement our programs,” she said.

Gilbert also thanked the city, its fire and police departments and the participating vendors, businesses and other partners who helped the festival grow.

“Over the years, the Old Port Festival grew and evolved along with the city itself, faithfully serving its mission of celebrating and showcasing local art, music, and culture,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The Old Port Festival and its traditional puppet parade will end this year, Portland Downtown announced March 5, and the 46th annual festival will be held June 9.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.