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SOUTH PORTLAND — Resident Edward Rowe recently approached the City Council with an idea: to host a summer event on par with the Yarmouth Clam Festival, a three-day event which organizers say draws about 100,000 attendees a year, rain or shine.
The idea has piqued the interest of city officials, most notably Mayor Tom Coward and City Manager Jim Gailey.
While supportive of the idea, both Coward and Gailey say the city’s resources are thin and are barely able to keep the city functioning.
“It’s a very interesting idea, but it’s one the city doesn’t have the capacity to pull off on its own,” Gailey said.
The planning effort for such an event would have to come from the community rather than city staffers, Coward said.
“Personally, I’ve got too much on my plate now to be able to take the lead,” Coward said. “I haven’t spoken to the rest of the council yet, but my sense would be that’s probably a general feeling.”
“If a group of citizens wants to get the ball rolling,” he added, “then I think people would be happy to help push it along.”
Rowe presented his idea at the council’s Dec. 14 meeting. He said local non-profits and community groups could benefit from the festival by setting up booths and running games. Meanwhile, under-funded municipal initiatives, like the community hot tub, could also benefit, he said.
“I can envision a Ferris wheel, kids and cotton candy,” Rowe told councilors.
This week, Rowe said he has spoken to several people who are interested in the festival, including philanthropists. He is hesitant, however, to seek commitments – financial or otherwise – without getting firm backing from the city.
But the city may be hesitant based on prior history.
For more than 20 years, South Portland hosted an annual summer festival on the grounds of Southern Maine Community College.
The Spring Point Festival was originally organized and planned with the help of a group of residents, Gailey said, but as the years went by, those duties increasingly fell on city’s shoulders. Events were similar to the Cape Days celebration that takes place in Cape Elizabeth, he said.
Dana Anderson, the director of Parks and Recreation, said organizing the festival was too much for staff.
“Most of the key players were burned out or left,” Anderson said.
Rowe said he hopes to involve school booster groups and non-profit groups like the Land Trust and Historical Society in the planning, because they are the ones that could benefit financially from a successful festival.
But planning duties are not the only issue to be sorted out; another hurdle is likely to be location.
Rowe insists on having the festival at Bug Light Park, because of the views and the amount of available space. Located in an industrial area, the site will not be a nuisance to neighbors, he said.
City officials, however, are pushing for the festival to be located at Thomas Knight Park, located under the Casco Bay Bridge at the end of Waterman Drive. Gailey said the park is wired to support the amount of electricity needed for the festival and suggested closing Waterman Drive.
Once a group of citizens steps forward to take the organizational reigns, Coward said the council would hold a workshop on the proposal.
If the project moves forward, Gailey said the council would need to settle on a site, which Rowe hopes will be of sweeping ocean vistas rather than bridge underpinnings.
“(Bug Light Park) is a great site, beyond the views,” Rowe said. “It’s a doable thing. The question is: Do people want to do it?”
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]
An effort is underway to bring a Yarmouth Clam Festival-type event to Bug Light in South Portland.