2017-12-07 / Front Page

Concert series could be moved

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Ballpark Commission has big plans for next season, which could include hosting the town’s summer concert series.

The commission held its first public workshop at town hall on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Robin Dayton, the commission’s vice-chairman and acting secretary, said no members of the public attended but another such meeting is planned for the spring. Dayton said commissioners discussed, among many things, the possibility of moving the summer concert series from Memorial Park to The Ballpark. The last concert of the 2017 season, Motor Booty Affair, was held on Aug. 17 at The Ballpark.

Councilor Michael Tousignant said he asked Recreation Director Jason Webber about the switch to see if it would improve attendance.

“I do feel concerts in The Ballpark are more accessible to people due to free parking,” Tousignant said. “Downtown you have to pay. We have nice bathroom facilities at The Ballpark and there are hardly any downtown. We have not met and talked about whether to make that move. It’s really more of a recreation department decision to make than it is a council level decision.”

Webber said a decision on the move could be made as early as the first of next year. He said he would make the decision jointly with Town Manager Larry Mead after hearing more from town council members in December. Webber said the recreation departments spends between $6,000 and $8,000 per year on the concert series. This upcoming season will be its 13th year.

“The only downside is that Memorial Park is such a beautiful venue,” Webber said. “The concert series is truly a community event and it’s a lot easier for residents of Old Orchard Beach to have the concerts at The Ballpark. Tourists and visitors are more than welcome to join us at The Ballpark, but it’s a better venue for residents.”

Tousignant said The Ballpark worked well as a venue because people were able to buy food from the concession stand. Hamburgers and hot dogs are typically available in Memorial Park for concerts as well. Tousignant said the crowd at The Ballpark was 10 times larger than the concerts in Memorial Park, but Motor Booty Affair is also a well-known band. He said aside from posters placed around town, the concert series is not advertised well.

“Those people come and play for next to nothing,” he said.

Tousignant said he felt the trial run of hosting the summer concert series in The Ballpark was a success, however people who live close to downtown may not be in favor of the switch.

“I’m sure some people within walking distance of the park would prefer (the concerts) were there,” he said.

Ballpark Operations Manager Guy Fontaine said he’s looking forward to the next season of the park and has already booked a few major events for 2018. The Firecracker Baseball Showcase Tournaments will run for the first time from June 21 to June 25 next year. The tournament began in 2008 in Rhode Island with six teams and now includes more than 50. Dirigo Vintage Baseball Club, a nonprofit that promotes and plays by the rules of baseball as it was formed in the mid-1800s, will return to The Ballpark on Aug. 18. The Surge and Southern Maine River Rats are both expected to return as well. Fontaine said more than140 games of baseball are played at The Ballpark each season for the past few years.

According to the Ballpark Commission’s quarterly report, the fourth annual Blues and Jazz Festival profited $3,700. The farmer’s market, a first this year, averaged three to seven vendors each weekend and earned $800. The New England Parkinson’s Ride saw 1,000 participants and 2,500 spectators. The ride raised more than $772,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

After an engineering study was conducted last fall, maintaining The Ballpark is a top priority for Fontaine. He hoped to have a request for proposals finished sometime within the next few weeks for work to begin early spring.

“The next biggest step is getting contracts out there for long term preservation for sealing the cement and taking care of any cosmetics so it will last a long time,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine also hopes a new LED lighting sign will help attract people to The Ballpark. The sign was installed at the end of August and was donated by Pepsi for $1,500 as part of its annual contract renewal. The new LED sign was placed underneath the existing one. Fontaine said information on the former sign would take about an hour to change and many people did not notice it.

“We had a lot of people during events call me and say, “I’m down at the beach and I can’t find The Ballpark,’” he said. “They’d go right by it. Even though the existing sign is very large it didn’t catch the attention of a lot of people.”

Fontaine said more events at The Ballpark will help the local economy as well, as participants of the Firecracker Tournament are expected to need about 100 rooms. However, the town has struggled to find housing in the past for Surge players and resorted to asking families with extra space in their homes for housing. Fontaine said he’d like to see permanent housing built behind The Ballpark but there’s been no serious discussion about it yet.

“That definitely is a concern and something that needs to be looked into,” he said. “Every year we run into that problem. They all need places to stay. It’s a good question.”

In the meantime, Dayton said a few people were interested in skating on the pond behind The Ballpark. However, the facilities, such as the bathrooms, are unlikely to open because the water is shut off during winter. She said people skated on it last year, but warned anyone who planned to do so again make sure the ice is thick enough. A walking path around the pond was also proposed at the public workshop.

Dayton said there are many ideas for how to grow The Ballpark and she hopes it can continue to be a hub for community activity.

“This is the largest piece of public land left in Old Orchard Beach, outside of the Beach itself,” she said. “Geographically it is directly in the heart of town. It’s one of the last pieces of open space we have. With the public schools as abutters, it just makes perfect sense to develop it as a public recreation area. The long term vision is as a gateway to recreation in Southern Maine.”

Dayton said she was proud of Ballpark staff and thanked them for their work over the past season.

“Everyone is pitching in to continue to make the Ballpark a huge success,” she said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

Return to top