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Mar 29, 2016 5:25 PM

SEACOAST MATTERS: Controversy over proposal to build new stage at Prescott Park

PORTSMOUTH - Summertime musical productions have taken place in Portsmouth’s Prescott Park for the past 42 years.

The stage, dressing rooms, props, lights and backdrops are removed after the summer ends.

“As a structure, it’s on its last legs,” said Ben Anderson, executive director of the Prescott Park Arts Festival, talking about the worn temporary stage that is currently used.

The non-profit arts group wants to spend over $1 million to build a permanent stage where the current temporary one stands.
“It’s more about a safe environment for the actors,” said Anderson.

Six months ago, Portsmouth city officials gave the construction plans preliminary approval. Then the Attorney General’s office got a resident’s letter - complaining that a permanent stage shouldn’t be erected.

“The question does become, does one charity [Prescott Park Arts Festival] have the ability to occupy a fairly large portion of the park premises,” said Terry Knowles, assistant director of the Charitable Trusts Unit for the NH Attorney General’s office.

What would Josie Prescott want? Her wealthy family deeded the land to the city with this promise in 1940 that: “…it shall be forever used and improved as a public park and for no other purpose."

Would a permanent stage violate the Prescott family’s intent?

“It would be up to a judge to decide if this is appropriate activity,” said Knowles.

Prescott Park visitors were split on whether a permanent stage should be built.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea. It may look better, but I’m not sure it’s good for the city to get stuck with the arts people forever,” said William Tappan, a frequent visitor to the park.

“As long as it’s something everyone can enjoy, I think it’s a great idea,” said David Maurer, who was visiting from Hampton.

Currently, plans to erect a permanent stage are on hold until state officials from the AG’s office make a decision.

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