Bring on the bandshell: Structure in place for new riverfront venue

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The metal framework for a massive bandshell arrived by barge Tuesday and was set in place along Port City Marina's sprawling Pier 33. Courtesy photos.
The metal framework for a massive bandshell arrived by barge Tuesday and was set in place along Port City Marina’s sprawling Pier 33. Courtesy photos.

A new outdoor performance venue is taking shape along the northern downtown waterfront.

As construction continues on two eateries -Blackfin n Ameripub and Vida Mexican Kitchen – that will anchor Port City Marina, a metal bandshell was laid in place Tuesday along the 27,000-square-foot concrete Pier 33 that stretches between the restaurants and the boat slips.

At 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, the impressive structure was constructed offsite and arrived by barge this week, said Matt Rogers, marketing director for USA Investco, the Wilmington real estate development group behind the projects. It’s the skeleton for what – once topped with a roof and covered in canvas – will become a site for an assortment of events, both public and private.

Crews work to lower the structure--70 feet long and 36 feet wide--onto the pier. The structure was constructed offsite and will be topped with a metal roof and covered in canvas.
Crews work to lower the structure–70 feet long and 36 feet wide–onto the pier. The structure was constructed offsite and will be topped with a metal roof and covered in canvas.

“We wanted to have the look and feel match what’s around it,” Rogers said of the bandshell’s design, noting the canvas is a nod to the nautical atmosphere surrounding the venue.

Standing as an “iconic visual” while not in use, he added, the seminal architectural style will provide cover for live acts and house smaller events.

“Our thought is that we’d bring in portable stage blocks…to set up for larger performances and the pier would be used for people who wanted to come out and watch the show,” Rogers said. “Both restaurants have outdoor seating areas…so there is an organic-type flow between the three.”

While Pier 33 could hold far bigger crowds than any of the city’s existing venues – as many as 4,000 people – Rogers does not anticipate staging any large-scale concerts on the level of the nearby performing arts center at Cape Fear Community College or Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.

“We’re not trying to be replicate any of those places. We’re just trying to create a cool draw for people to come drink and eat and hang out,” he noted.

An overall ambience aside, Rogers said the bandshell is a “flexible space” that could be used, along with the sprawling pier, for “everything from a car show to a wing festival to a beer event to a wine tasting to a screening of a Cucalorus film.”

Work on the structure is set to wrap up sometime in the next month, and Rogers said plans are already in place to host the Queen’s Coronation and Past Presidents’ parties as part of this year’s N.C. Azalea Festival, held April 6-10.

USA Investco’s partners on Blackfinn and Vida, Charlotte-based Bar Management Group (BMG), will assume oversight of the bandshell, handling bookings and day-to-day operations. In addition to managing upscale restaurants BMG has experience in the nightlife and live music scene. The company was involved in launching the inaugural Carolina Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach last summer.

“They’re kind of in between that restaurant and event-type space,” Rogers said. “So we feel confident with those guys at the helm.”

He said Blackfinn, described on its website as a “high-energy” American-style pub, and Vida, which offers specialty Mexican dishes and an extensive specialty cocktail menu, are on schedule to be open by mid-summer.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.