For seven years, the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts presented its annual summer-long slate of free entertainment on a temporary stage. "We kept telling people that something better would be coming," said Carleigh Welsh, marketing and communications director for the Levitt.
That "something" will officially be open for public enjoyment July 13 with the planned ribbon-cutting for the completely rebuilt entertainment complex on the banks of Saugatuck River. A schedule of more than 50 free shows takes to the new stage starting July 15.
The project, which is nearing completion a year later than initially anticipated, involved the construction of a new pavilion and upgrades for the entire complex, including indoor bathrooms -- replacing port a-potties-- dressing rooms with showers and air conditioning backstage, she said.
"For many years people got caught up in the productions and didn't see the flaws," she said.
Those attending the dozens of outdoor events this summer will also notice an improved riverwalk around the perimeter of the pavilion, located behind the Westport Library, she said.
"This is the first major renovation of the pavilion" since its inaugural season in the summer of 1974, Welsh said. "It's a complete transformation."
Total cost of the project was $6.9 million with $1.1 million funded by the town, $950,000 from the state of Connecticut and $5 million from Levitt fundraisers.
Welsh said the final phase of fundraising related to construction of the new facilities will be announced around the time of the season opener. "Those funds will not only be used to restore our endowment that we invested in the project, but is also planned for the first years of our increased operating expenses," she said.
The original Levitt Pavilion was a wooden bandstand that had become old and weather-worn over the years. "Well, it was wooden and on a river and went through a lot of winter weather," she said. While there was an upgrade done in 1990, funded by a gift from Paul Newman, Welsh said, "We always knew we would need a new pavilion one day." She said the programming offered there also outgrew the original stage.
While some work still needs to be completed on the new facilities, July 13 remains the date set for the ribbon-cutting. "Yes, anything can happen, but we are still a go for that day," she said.
Stuart McCarthy, the town's parks and recreation director, who also served as the project administrator for the town, agreed.
"As with any construction project, and certainly of this size, the details change daily if not hourly, so it is difficult to be more specific," McCarthy said.
But, he added, "construction is ongoing and we are working toward the referenced completion date."
McCarthy acknowledged that one glitch has already befallen the project.
"There was a tear in one of the four panels of the tensile fabric roof over the bandstand, but it will be replaced before the season opens," he said.
The tear was discovered after the roof was installed. A new one is being shipped by the manufacturer, McCarthy said.
The Levitt Pavilion is one of the longest-running free outdoor festivals in the nation, Welsh said, adding that the seasons also include several ticketed acts that help underwrite the free programs.
This year, Welsh expects they will provide more than 50 nights of live entertainment, free of charge, to an audience totaling more than 50,000. To date, she added, more than 1.5 million people have enjoyed Levitt programs while sitting on blankets spread on the big lawn under the summer sky. Each free performance draws an audience of about 1,400, she said, adding she hopes that number will increase because of the new facilities.
For more information about the coming season at the Levitt Pavilion, visit: www.levittpavilion.com.