with permission from MV Gazette

By Julia Wells

A budding plan to allow two Aquinnah concert promoters to build a summer outdoor performance center at the Gay Head Cliffs has begun to draw more darts than the P.A. Club on a Friday night.

A public hearing was set for last evening and Aquinnah selectmen moved the location to the old town hall because they were expecting a crowd.

The architects of the plan are Ted Cammann and Jim Glavin, both Aquinnah residents. Mr. Cammann has a long background in producing musical events; Mr. Glavin is the owner of Deca Construction. Both were involved in putting on a music festival in Aquinnah last summer and are now partners in a company called Circle Productions LLC. The company was the sole responder to a request for proposals put out by the town for the project.

But townspeople have begun to react negatively. A letter signed by 31 Aquinnah residents circulated this week denouncing the plan, which is tentatively slated to come before voters at a special town meeting on May 19. And the selectmen’s office has been flooded with feedback, virtually all opposed.

“We . . . agree with the promoters that the uniqueness of Aquinnah and of the cliffs makes it a particularly attractive venue for concerts or for other public gatherings. But the issue here is not whether Aquinnah is a good place for concerts. The issue is whether concerts are good for Aquinnah,” the letter says in part. The signers asked to have the letter read into the record of last night’s public hearing.

The e-mails are piling up too; at press time yesterday the town office had received e-mails signed by nearly 50 people, about half of them from voters, half from seasonal residents and taxpayers.

“The summer program of having concerts at the Cliffs is a terrible idea. Parking on Moshup trail will destroy that very precious area . . . Please vote against this happening,” wrote Dr. Allen M. Goorin, a seasonal resident.

Similar sentiment was reflected in the other e-mails.

Not atypically for Aquinnah, there has been confusion around the plan and the sequence of events that led to it.

Its first public airing was at a special town meeting in March, where voters agreed to allow the selectmen to put out an RFP for the project.

The deadline for the RFP was April 17.

In the proposal formally submitted in April, Circle Productions would lease the natural amphitheatre at the Cliffs from the town for $1 a year. The company would give the town $1 per ticket for all profit-making concerts. Concerts would be limited to 2,500 people and would operate from June to September. The proposal envisions building a stage and backstage, although no permanent seating, to allow a wide range of concerts and arts events, some for profit, some nonprofit, including educational events and events for children.

Under the terms of the proposal the town would be responsible for maintenance of the area and would be asked to help provide storage for equipment associated with the concerts. Public safety responsibility is framed in the broadest terms: “Safety and traffic management plans have already been and will continue to be developed with the town chief of police for all events. Health, ambulance and first aid issues will be coordinated with the Tri-Town ambulance group,” the proposal states in part. The proposal also states: “Uniformed police personnel shall not patrol or display a presence inside the event grounds unless requested by the organizers.”

The proposal also states that the backers hope to work with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on cultural events.

But in a letter sent to the selectmen in February the tribal historic preservation officer spoke out strongly against the plan for the Cliffs, which are considered sacred. “This location is of paramount historical, traditional and cultural significance to the Aquinnah Wampanoag people. This is our ancient homeland and this site is an extraordinary piece of cultural history for our people, from ancient times until present,” wrote Bettina M. Washington.

The Circle Productions proposal is available for public inspection in the selectmen’s office in the town hall.

The Aquinnah annual town meeting is May 12, but town administrator Jeffrey Burgoyne said this week that the performance proposal was moved to a special town meeting at the request of town moderator Walter E. Delaney, who thought the issue would require a large amount of time for discussion.

“In the interest of keeping things timely at the annual town meeting, he asked that the matter be moved to another day,” Mr. Burgoyne said.

Mr. Burgoyne said the hearing last night would give people an opportunity to state their opinions, and would allow the proponents to speak on their own behalf.

“It really is a determination as to what the political will is going to be,” he said.

Aquinnah selectman Jim Newman said yesterday that he does not support the plan and intends to move at the regular board meeting on Tuesday afternoon to cancel the special town meeting.

“I think it’s premature and it would have to go to the commission and we haven’t even talked about that,” Mr. Newman said. “I don’t see how we could even vote on this [at a special town meeting]. It’s not ready for that. My feeling is that this meeting should be canceled.”