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Big Plans at the Airport: Summer Concerts & Possible Expansion

The green outlined area is the land across from Walmart/Lowe's that the Airport hopes to acquire; the blue dashed outline is the apron area where a large hangar to shelter planes, and deicing area could be constructed.

Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, and the Pilot’s Cove Café restaurant located there, have both made great strides in the last few years, but even more growth and expansion is being planned.

At the March 8, 2022 meeting of the City Council’s Municipal Operations and Property Subcommittee, Airport Manager Allison Navia gave some background on a proposal to expand concerts at Pilot’s Cove Café. She said in 2019 the restaurant began featuring local musicians, and expanded music offerings after constructing the Runaway pavilion last year. The new plan would include construction of a separate stage and crowd control fencing.

Dan Bowden, owner of Pilot’s Cove, said he has been working with a promoter to bring in nationally touring bands that would feature local performers as openers. The two acts that have been booked so far are Jimmy Kenny and the Pirate Beach Band on June 11, described as a Jimmy Buffet / Kenny Chesney tribute; and Collie Buddz, a Bahamian reggae artist on June 16. If the plan is approved, he will schedule an additional three shows this summer. The concerts will be ticketed through Eventbrite.

Ms. Navia and Mr. Bowden were hoping to get a blanket approval so they wouldn’t have to apply to the City Council prior to each event, but Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio and Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy both said they would prefer to see what happened at the first show or two before approving anything further.

There was discussion about possible noise complaints. Code Enforcement Officer Jamie Cole said there were some complaints from nearby residents last summer during Runaway concerts. Mr. Bowden said last summer the music was being broadcast toward Route 109, while this new stage would be facing the Airport instead. Concerts are planned to run from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. City ordinances restrict noise after 10:00 p.m.

Subcommittee members also had concerns about safety and parking. Ms. Navia said she and Mr. Bowden will meet with representatives from Police, Fire and Codes Departments to flesh out a more comprehensive plan before bringing it forward to the full City Council.

Ms. Navia also reviewed for the Subcommittee a federal funding opportunity which, if awarded, could pay for the expansion of the Airport with construction of a new terminal building and de-icing area. She said the grants are competitive, but feels Sanford has a good shot because the goals of the funding program dovetail nicely with the Airport’s business plan for the next several years.

She described the three-phase plan for the expansion as follows:

  • Phase 1 would be acquisition of the property, a 6-acre parcel directly across Main St. from the Walmart/Lowe’s driveway. This would provide a new main entrance to the Airport at an already signalized intersection. The land abuts a piece of Airport property that is earmarked for development.
  • Phase 2 would include permitting and design for the new terminal building and other improvements. Ms. Navia said the current terminal, built in the 1960s, has no dedicated public space, and is only open when the restaurant and office are open. The new building would have 24/7 access for pilots.
  • Phase 3 would be construction. In addition to the access road and terminal, this would include a landside parking lot with electric vehicle charging stations. It would also have an airside apron with aircraft de-icing capabilities, which would enable the Airport to better compete with Portland and increase jet traffic year-round.

Ms. Navia has been working to attract a fixed-based operator who would construct a large hangar on that part of the Airport to shelter jets during weather events, like the damaging hailstorm a few years ago. Having de-icing capability would be a huge boost to that effort.

The deadline for the preliminary application is March 28. If that is approved, there is a lengthier process for the full funding. If awarded, the grant would pay for 90% of the cost of the project, with the remaining 10% split by the State and the City. There is no obligation to proceed with the project if the funding is not received.

At its March 15 meeting, the Council unanimously supported submitting the application. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” said Mayor Mastraccio, “this could take our Airport to another level.”

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