Unfinished Blues Band performs during the Johnson Hall Free Waterfront Concert Series in Gardiner’s Waterfront Park in July 2021. Officials from the nonprofit are seeking to build a permanent stage at the park. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — With only two shows left in this year’s Free Waterfront Concert series, Johnson Hall officials are now considering making changes for next year.

Michael Miclon, executive artistic director at the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, is planning to talk to Gardiner city officials on Wednesday about the possibility of erecting a permanent stage in Waterfront Park that Johnson Hall would pay for and would become city property.

“We want to know if there’s a appetite for it,” Miclon said. “If they’re open to it, we want to write a grant and try a couple of ways to raise the money for it.”

They would also seek funding to maintain the stage, so city officials would not be on the hook for that.

“The waterfront concerts have become such a staple to the community,” he said. “It’s a reason to do it.

Miclon is scheduled to appear at the Gardiner City Council meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chamber at 6 Church St. The city also livestreams its meetings on its website.


Currently, Johnson Hall pays to have a temporary stage erected at the park for the summer shows.

The stage takes up about six parking spaces, Miclon said. The way it’s situated now means the performers see the river, but the audience is looking into the setting the sun for the first part of the show.

“The audience sits at the far right looking at the stage, as far as they can, until the sun moves,” he said. “By 6:45 or 7 p.m., the sun is out of your eyeballs, and it takes awhile.”

As proposed, the stage would be designed to complement the boardwalk and built to withstand flooding. It would have a roof and an open back that would not have any permanent electronics attached to it. It would be situated so the stage faced south, opening up a longer stretch of lawn to accommodate the larger crowds that the waterfront concerts have attracted since the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

People listen to singer songwriter Lauren Crosby performing during Johnson Hall’s Free Waterfront Concert series at Gardiner’s Waterfront Park in July 2021. Officials from the nonprofit are seeking to build a permanent stage at the park and would change its orientation so the audience is not facing the sun. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“The summer concerts they have been holding every Friday night (in the summer) for years now have really been popular,” Mayor Patricia Hart said. “The (Classic Car Cruise In) car show uses the stage down there and last night there was a group that had permission to use the stage.”

Before the pandemic, Miclon said shows routinely attracted about 200 people, but now the weekly audience has swelled to 500 or more.


“When the Mallett Brothers were there, in that configuration we were at capacity for that setup,” he said, noting the audience for that show was estimated at about 1,000.

Ultimately, he said, having the permanent stage would be a money saver for Johnson Hall, even as work continues on the $9 million project to renovate the state’s oldest opera house.

The centerpiece of the project is the upper theater that has been closed down for decades. When the project is done, that theater will reopen with 400 seats, and the Studio Theater on the ground floor on the Water Street side will have a new entrance and ramp to meet accessibility standards spelled out in federal law.

At the park, with the additional space comes additional work to support the new larger shows that are expected. Miclon said having a permanent stage at the waterfront would streamline the work and costs of putting on the summer series.

“It opens up the possibilities of having other things happen on the waterfront that don’t happen now,” he said. “It gives us options, even into the fall.”

Gardiner Main Street, a nonprofit organization that works to make downtown Gardiner a vibrant community, anticipates being a supporting partner for the project.

“We are hopeful that a design can be created that will fit the nature of the Waterfront Park, will fit within city codes and ordinances and be a benefit to our community.

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