Teacher Marita Kennedy-Castro, founder of Embody the Rhythm, demonstrates movements during a Guinea-style West African dance class at Payson Park. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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Payson Park, the nearly 50-acre parcel adjacent to Baxter Boulevard, could be the site of a music festival drawing upwards of 10,000 people per day as soon as next summer.

Andy Downs, the city’s director of public assembly facilities, told the Phoenix that a group called C3 Productions is looking to organize a two-day music festival in the park. After looking at sites all over Maine, Downs said C3 Productions settled on Payson Park. The park contains several baseball, softball and tennis fields for summer use, and is perhaps best known as an ideal sledding hill in the winter months. 

C3 Productions, an Austin-based event production company owned by the global entertainment and ticketing company Live Nation Entertainment, organizes events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. While dates have not been identified, Downs said C3 is looking at summer 2023.

“I think they feel it’s feasible they can put something together,” Downs said. “It won’t be as large-scale as their other productions. It would be scaled to Portland.”

While most of the details still need to be worked out, Downs said the proposal will likely appear before the City Council in November. The two-day festival would have two stages and a mix of national touring acts, which would ultimately dictate its size, but the goal is about 10,000 people per day, Downs said.

The city plans to meet with neighbors about the proposal, Downs said, adding that there are always concerns with large events, like how they would impact traffic and parking. Organizers plan to make “investments and capital improvements to the park” if the festival is approved, Downs said.

City Councilor Andrew Zarro, who represents District 4 and includes Payson Park, was excited to see Portland considered for an event like this. He shared the concern for traffic, adding that the city will need to find a way for people to get to the festival without using their cars.

“We would never consider something like this if there wasn’t the infrastructure in place of getting people in and out,” Zarro said.

Zarro was confident in the organizers ability to put a good plan in place, and that the city wouldn’t set up something that the community didn’t want.

“I’m completely fine with it, I think this is fun,” Zarro said. “I’ve been on the Council for two years, and we’re always reacting. We rarely come together and do something that makes people feel good and makes investments in the community and leaves the place better than we found it.”

Some nearby residents take a dim view of the plan. Cathy Ramsdell, a member of the community organization Friends of Payson Park who lives near it, said she and other neighbors learned of the proposal last week. Initially they assumed it would be a Portland-based event, drawing local bands, but they learned the goal was to draw national acts, “which is very different.”

“I’m not sure it’s a good fit for Payson Park,” she said, adding she was only speaking for herself, and not the organization. “I’m of the opinion that public parks are for the public to access freely, not for private enterprise.”

Ramsdell worried that the festival would prevent people from using the park, owing to the festival’s substantial set-up and tear-down time. She lamented that the neighborhood had already been dealing with traffic concerns, citing construction work in the area that has shut down Baxter Boulevard since the spring. The city’s latest projections are that Baxter Boulevard from Vannah Street to the park will remain closed until July 2023. 

Ramsdell added that there are other places such a festival could take place.

“I thought this is what Rock Row was for,” Ramsdell said.

Ramsdell is also concerned that developers are underselling the event, and it could draw as many as 15,000 people per day.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us as citizens to see where this is going, especially with city staff being so excited,” she said. “I’m not sure this is an appropriate use.” 


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