PORTLAND — The shows will go on, but the backdrop may change next year.
On Oct. 2, the Westbrook Planning Board got its first look at a site plan amendment request from Waterstone Property Group to allow a “temporary” outdoor amphitheater at the Rock Row development, which straddles the Portland-Westbrook line off Larrabee Road and Brighton Avenue.
If plans are approved, promoters Live Nation and Waterfront Concerts will move their concerts from the Maine State Pier off Commercial Street in Portland to the inland venue.
Attorney Jim Katsiaficas told Westbrook Planning Board members the temporary arrangement would last five years, beginning next spring if approved. The proposed venue’s capacity is 8,000, about the combined capacity of the Maine State Pier and Thompson’s Point in Portland.
Portland City Manager Jon Jennings on Oct. 5 said he met with the Rock Row developers several months ago and knew of their interest.
Jennings said the city annually reviews the season’s shows at the pier before deciding whether they will continue. Concerts began in earnest at the pier in 2015; the number was reduced from a high of 27 in 2016 to 15 this year.
Coupled with the possible departure of the Cat ferry to a new terminal in Bar Harbor, he said the changes could provide a wider opportunity to look at redevelopment in around the pier and terminal areas.
On Tuesday, Waterstone principal Josh Levy said the amphitheater will be a boon regionally. At least 10 shows are expected next year, then 30 each year after as developers test whether the concept works.
While Maine State Pier shows bring more than $50,000 annually to Portland, they are not always well received. The city’s Sound Oversight Committee logged 89 noise complaints from May through September, compared to 13 for shows at Thompson’s Point.
In 2017, 130 complaints were recorded, according to city Director of Public Assembly Facilities Andy Downs.
Levy said Waterstone is working with Live Nation and Waterfront concerts because of their combined expertise and experience.
The companies have worked jointly on Maine State Pier shows, although Portland councilors this year shifted the authorization to have concerts from Waterfront to Live Nation.
The change came in April, about two months after Waterfront Concerts was granted the authorization. It was made in response to the Oct. 27, 2017, guilty plea by Waterfront Concerts owner and President Alex Gray to a charge of domestic violence assault.
Following approvals in Bangor and Portland for Waterfront to host shows, Gray’s victim, Erica Cole, sent an open letter to officials in both cities, asking them not to do business with him or his company.
Gray pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Superior in a differed disposition agreement that allows him to withdraw his plea after a year if he meets conditions that include having no contact with Cole, screening for alcohol use and no possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons.
According to the agreement, Gray is due back in court Oct. 22. Prosecutors are expected to drop the charge if he withdraws his plea.
City licenses issued for the pier concerts show Waterfront was the primary applicant for liquor licenses, with Live Nation listed as a “sponsor” and Gray signing the applications.
“What we said at the time was, we felt strongly about leasing the city space, but understood Live Nation contracts with others,” Jennings said.
Levy said Waterstone is aware of Gray’s guilty plea, but undeterred in working with both companies.
“What we would like to emphasize is this about more than any one person,” he said.
If the road to Rock Row is opened to concerts in Westbrook, promoters Live Nation and Waterfront Concerts will no longer host shows on the Maine State Pier in Portland.
Shows like this 2015 Pat Benatar concert at the Maine State Pier could shift to a new amphitheater in Westbrook.