Cape Elizabeth panel puts Fort Williams amphitheater on hold

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Fort Williams Park Committee has decided not to build an amphitheater in the park, at least for the time being.

The committee voted 6-1 on Sept. 15 to put the project on hold due to concerns raised by residents. The committee also discussed whether the issue should be sent to referendum, but that proposal was defeated 5-1.

The amphitheater plan was proposed last August, when the Town Council approved demolision of the aging concrete bleachers at the park softball diamond. The committee had recommended removing the bleachers, as well as the long-term goal of building an amphitheater.

In May, the Town Council included $440,000 in the town budget for design and construction of the amphitheater; one of the council’s 2016 goals was to review and approve a conceptual plan.

The Fort Williams Park Committee hired Mitchell and Associates, a Portland-based landscape and planning firm, to create a design. The firm proposed an open-air structure of grass and granite, with seating for 350, that would have formed a semicircle around the ball field. 

The Park Committee held a public forum Aug. 17 to discuss the conceptual plan after members decided they wanted public input before moving forward.

Approximately 30 people attended the forum, according to minutes posted on the town website. Many people had concerns about the cost of the project, as well as an increase in both noise and park visitors that could come with the amphitheater. 

Although some residents said it would be a great addition, others questioned the need for an outdoor theater. Fort Williams Park Committee Chairman Mark Russell earlier this year said the space would be used for community gatherings, theatrical and musical performances, and school graduations.

According to the minutes of the park committee’s Sept. 15 meeting, Russell said Town Manager Mike McGovern had suggested putting the amphitheater project on hold. Most committee members agreed, saying it’s important to listen to citizens’ concerns.

Some members agreed with those residents who said the amphitheater may cause an uptick in the number of visitors to the park. Residents at the Aug. 17 meeting said they think the park already draws too many people.

A 2009 study done by the Greater Portland Council of Governments said the park sees between 900-1,100 cars a day from June to September, with most staying one to two hours. A more recent study has not been conducted.

Committee members Suzanne McGinn and Don Clark said they want to see the impact the new children’s garden will have on park attendance before they move forward with the amphitheater.

Other members said the committee should focus more on other needs within the park, such as improved parking and upgrades to the restrooms.

According to Public Works Director Bob Malley, the Fort Williams Park Committee will be preparing a memo for the Town Council with an update on the decision.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Aging bleachers at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth were demolished last winter to make way for an amphitheater, a project that has now been put on hold.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.