2015-01-29 / Front Page

Concert Dialogue Continues

Promotor Michele Palmieri responds to Ft. Adams concerns
By Barry Bridges

At a Jan. 21 public workshop on the proposal to relocate Newport Yachting Center music performances to Fort Adams, proponents and opponents of the plan filled the cafeteria of Pell Elementary School to offer their comments to City Council.

Michele Maker Palmieri, president and CEO of Newport Waterfront Events, is hoping to move the Newport Concert Series to the fort after last summer’s sale of the Newport Yachting Center, where she was the general manager. She formed Newport Waterfront Events (NWE) as a spin-off entity, and her team purchased intellectual property and branding rights in the hopes of continuing the series. The council’s role will be to con- sider whether entertainment and liquor licenses should be issued for a pilot program of 12 concerts in May and June.

NWE’s selection of Fort Adams as the new venue has its supporters and detractors, many of whom voiced their opinions at the workshop. A larger percentage of attendees were in favor of the plan, as indicated by an informal show of hands. They primarily point to the employment and economic benefits that the city derives from the waterfront concerts that have gone on for years.

But opponents presented several arguments as to why the project should be rebuffed. They described their fears of disruptions to the surrounding residential neighborhood through noise and traffic congestion. Some wanted to ensure opportunities for local vendors and musicians, while others wondered how the proposal would further the preservation and educational mission of the historic fort. The city’s comprehensive plan was also mentioned as an obstacle to moving the concerts to Fort Adams.

In a conversation with Newport This Week, Palmieri offered her perspective on some of these concerns.

As for the neighborhood, Palmieri is confident that the nature of NWE’s proposal, which limits ticket sales to 2,500, will minimize traffic and parking impacts. “We have done our homework on this,” she said. “An average concert is expected to draw approximately 1,900 guests, with at least 20 percent estimated to arrive by intermodal transportation. This amounts to 1,520 arriving by car at the fort. The event industry standard estimates that, on average, three guests will arrive to a venue in one vehicle. In this scenario, there would be 500 cars.”

She commented that even with a sold-out capacity show of 2,500, water transport options still mean there would be less than 700 cars. “The fort can accommodate at least 700 cars in the main lots with additional parking in other areas like the North Lawn.”

Palmieri also described the typical staggered arrivals of concertgoers that reduce traffic congestion. “With guest arrival times varying due to gates typically opening 1.5 hours before the opening act and 2.5 hours before the headliner, we do not anticipate any traffic issues,” she said.

Speaking to noise worries, Palmieri emphasized that the concerts will be inside the fort walls and pointed to the positive results of sound tests. “The infrastructure of the fort itself will solve the problem,” she said. “With these events you’re usually talking of an outdoor space with a tent, and minimizing noise was part of the allure of going within the fort itself. The different venue is a big part of the picture.”

To those who say that the numerous noise violations issued during last summer’s concerts at the Yachting Center set a bad precedent, Palmieri stressed that violations were not at sustained levels. “What gets tricky is that there are a lot of intricacies in how to read sound,” she said. “General traffic, background noise, and the audience clapping can add to a particular reading. Seventy-five decibels was our limit at the Yachting Center, notwithstanding a more typical allowance of 90 dB. We were very proactive in letting our sound engineers know of the limits, and we did everything we could to stay within them.”

Although the plan is to have national entertainment company Live Nation assist in booking acts, Palmieri said that Newporters would be fully engaged during the events.

“Newport Waterfront Events has worked with the local music community for many years, and we plan to continue this,” she remarked. “We have partnered with local artists for the concert series during the past seven years, and we featured a local artist at every concert and during our music festivals to entertain the crowds when gates opened up until the opening act performed. On many occasions the opening acts for the headliners were local artists.”

“Local vendors will have the opportunity to take part in the events,” she continued. “Once we get the approval to move ahead, we will open this up via our website. There are many levels of participation, from sponsorships to exhibitors to food servicers.” Palmieri also stated that the concert series has traditionally hired a local team of over 100 people to serve as stagehands, operations labor, bartenders, gate staff, ushers, box office staff, and overall event support.

“I’m proud of how we’ve collaborated to hire locals in supporting the community,” she said.

Palmieri refutes any suggestion that NWE will monopolize the fort. “Anyone can proactively submit a proposal to the Fort Adams Trust to produce events, just like we did. We do not have an exclusive on events for the season, and in fact the annual fort programming will not change with this proposal.” She added that while permission for 12 concerts is being sought, the number of performances eventually booked could be less.

She also stands behind the results of the economic impact study completed by Performance Research that NWE has used to illustrate the importance of the series to the city. Some have questioned its validity.

“Performance Research is a Newport-based, internationallyacclaimed research company. They are a world leader in this type of work and have done studies of visiting boaters to Newport and the economic impact of regattas. They are expecting to measure the impact of the incoming Volvo Ocean Race, in addition to other large-scale events across the country. The report is available upon request to anyone who wants to review it.”

Palmieri hopes to receive the green light for the Fort Adams concerts when the City Council considers the needed permits on Feb. 11. “At this point in the year, we’d normally have six concerts booked,” she said. “But the timing is what it is.”

Editor's Note: This is the second in our ongoing series on the proposal to relocate waterfront concerts to Fort Adams.

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