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As new pavilion is built, Levitt wins OK to move shows to Jesup Green

Updated 4:17 pm, Thursday, May 2, 2013
  • Jesup Green will host the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts' summer season, after approval Wednesday from the Board of Selectmen. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Jesup Green will host the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts' summer season, after approval Wednesday from the Board of Selectmen. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Temporarily displaced from its riverfront home, the show will still go on this summer for the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts.

The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously approved the use of Jesup Green as the pavilion's venue this summer while a new pavilion complex is built.

"We'd like to have a season," Freda Welsh, the pavilion's executive director, told the selectmen. "I think this will make our sponsors happy, it will make our audience happy and allow us visibility."

Construction of the revamped pavilion was scheduled to start last September. But the start date was delayed, as the nonprofit Friends of the Levitt Pavilion worked toward its approximately $4.75 million fundraising target needed to begin construction. Pavilion officials say they have now reached that goal, with Welsh reporting that pavilion officials expect to deliver a check in that amount to the town in a few days.

Construction is slated to start May 15. The project is expected to take 11 months to complete, in time for the pavilion's 2014 season, according to Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy. He is also the project manager for the pavilion's renovation.

Construction contracts could not be signed until the private-contribution total was reached, according to McCarthy.

Jesup Green is part of the same town-owned property that includes the pavilion and the Westport Public Library. With the exception of two rows in the library's parking lot that will be unavailable during construction, guests arriving for shows at Jesup Green will have access to the same parking sites traditionally used by the pavilion.

The stage will be set up at the west end of the green facing uphill toward police headquarters. The layout will create amphitheatre-like seating. Welsh described the temporary stage as a "giant Lego set," which will measure 28 by 20 feet, compared to a 30-by-40-foot structure at the pavilion grounds.

Performers will use a "scaled-down" sound system, according to Welsh.

"I'm booking very carefully and conscious of sound spillover," she added. "We'll adjust our sound as we go to make sure we keep our neighbors happy."

To protect attendees from traffic, a fence will be installed along the Jesup Road side of the green, McCarthy said. The green will remain open to the public throughout the summer and be accessible from the adjacent Taylor municipal parking lot and the lot between the green and police headquarters.

"I think that alleviates or addresses the concerns of (police) Chief (Dale) Call and also of the pavilion that in the middle of the show, if somebody's not paying attention, that somebody wanders out in the middle of the street," he said.

During the season, the green will also host the library's summer book sale and the Westport Downtown Merchant Association's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

"We've worked out all the details we've brought up so far," Paul Mazzaccaro, the library's assistant director and chief operating officer, told the selectmen.

At the end of the season, the town will conduct "lawn restoration" on the green. McCarthy described its cost as a "wash" compared to summer maintenance costs of a pavilion complex.

The pavilion hosts 50 or more free performances each summer from late June until September. Pavilion officials say they plan a comparable schedule at Jesup Green.

The pavilion's annual benefit concert, its marquee ticketed fundraising event, is expected to take place elsewhere in Westport because it requires a larger space. Past show headliners include Frankie Valli, Huey Lewis and the News and the Doobie Brothers.

Relocation of the pavilion's summer season does not require site plan approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission because it comprises a temporary use, P&Z Director Larry Bradley said.

The new pavilion complex constitutes one of the most significant capital projects planned in downtown Westport during the next five years. Designed by Westport architect Peter Cadoux, it will include a stage under a tensile roof, a covered entry pavilion with restrooms, a food concession and hospitality terrace, a new lawn seating area and an extended riverwalk around the site.

In addition to the $4.75 million in private contributions, the project will be financed by a $1.1 million town appropriation and $950,000 in state grants.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott