A major concert promoter that wants to host an annual weekend festival of national music acts in Payson Park says it needs to know this week whether Portland will host the event this summer, so it can begin planning.
The Portland City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on the proposal from C3 Presents, a division of concert promotion giant Live Nation, to hold a two-day music festival in July, with seven or eight acts and up to 20,000 people at the park each day. The performance dates would be July 22 and 23, from about noon to 10 p.m., but the disruption for area residents and park users would be much longer – C3’s application says it would need July 14-26 for set up and clean up.
Since emerging last month, the plan has drawn both excitement and concern from residents. Although city staff supports hosting the festival, the park’s friends group thinks it will be too disruptive to the neighborhood and damaging to the grounds. Many residents and neighbors of the park have opposed the plan on social media and at various public gatherings over the past few weeks. Concerns include neighborhood streets potentially being closed for a week or more and long-term damage to the park, though C3 Presents says it will repair any damage and donate $100,000 to the parks conservancy, and a portion of ticket sales to the city.
Some question whether a city park should be closed at all to allow a private company to make money from it.
“Closing this park to the public in its entirety is unprecedented, especially for exclusive private use. The park is used by so many people for so many different things,” said Cathy Ramsdell, a Friends of Payson Park member who helped draft a letter to the City Council explaining the group’s opposition.
But many residents have spoken in favor of the idea on social media and at public meetings, saying a festival of nationally known musicians would be a boon to the city’s cultural scene and economy. In its application, C3 said it would give $1 from each ticket sold to the city, and that if the festival continues annually, that fee would increase to $1.50 a ticket in 2024 and $2 in 2025.
Emmett Beliveau, chief operating officer of C3 Presents, said during a Nov. 14 City Council workshop that his company would pledge to donate $100,000 to the nonprofit Portland Parks Conservancy, including $75,000 to be used for projects or improvements at Payson Park.
Some residents feel the city is being rushed into a decision. City officials said they first heard from C3 about the plan in early October and the formal application is dated Nov. 4. C3 officials have said they need a council vote on Monday. A memorandum attached to the council agenda states that action on the application cannot be taken at a later date because “organizer needs to start planning their event,” which would include putting together a lineup of performers.
In its letter asking the council to vote against the festival, the Friends of Payson Park points out that Chapter 18 of the city’s code of ordinances – Sec. 18-44 – lays out specific requirements for allowing a large event in a park, including that adequate parking be available, that the event does not “unreasonably disturb” people nearby and that the event not cause damage or destruction, among others.
At the council workshop, Beliveau said parking would be at existing lots around the city and that shuttle or public buses would bring people to the park. He said “transportation would be a challenge.” On its application, C3 said it would pay for any needed repairs to the park following the event. Beliveau said he thought the festival could attract 20,000 a people a day and that number would be the per-day cap on tickets, but it was unlikely to draw that many in its first year. Organizers had said earlier they thought the festival could draw 10,000 to 20,000 people a day.
Beliveau said C3 hoped to form a “long-term partnership” with the city and that the festival would become an annual event. Some of C3’s other annual festivals include Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits.
The last time a music festival similar in size was held in a city park was in 2012, when the British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons headlined a daylong festival on the Eastern Promenade that attracted more than 15,000 fans. That was a one-time, one-day event.
Andrew Downs, director of the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Division, has said he thinks Payson Park – which is 48 acres and includes playgrounds, playing fields, basketball courts and a well-known sledding hill – is big enough to hold what C3 Presents has in mind. The Mumford & Sons festival on the Eastern Promenade in 2012 did draw some complaints from people about trash and noise, but overall, Downs said, that event was a “success.”
A memorandum attached to the agenda for Monday’s meeting says the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Division “is confident the organizers of this event have the ability to do so” and that staff recommends the festival be approved. Five of the city’s nine councilors would have to vote to approve it.
Public comment will be taken before the vote Monday, and city staff and the organizer will be available to take questions. The meeting will start at 5 p.m. at City Hall but people can also participate, and comment, via Zoom. A link to the meeting on Zoom can be found at portlandmaine.gov, by clicking the agenda for the Nov. 21 council meeting. Other materials related to the event, including the application, can also be found online with the council meeting listing and agenda.