The Freeman Stage at Bayside near Fenwick has plans for a $26 million expansion to allow for more seating and new facilities.
When constructed, the Freeman Arts Pavilion will provide state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video capabilities, an expanded concession and dining area, an artists' dressing room and production space.
During a program status report Nov. 13 to Sussex County Council, Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Executive Director Patti Grimes said an expanded stage on a 3.4-acre site will allow for larger acts, 4,000 more seats and 850 covered seats. “In the future, we will run out of space,” she said.
The foundation website states the four- to six-year project will cost about $26 million. The website states that some funding will come from the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, but the majority will be raised by the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation through a capital campaign.
The current stage will remain open during construction of the new stage near the location of the current Cove Bar and Grill. There is no timeline in place for construction.
“Over 11 years, we have served over a half a million people in this county – 406,000 at the Freeman Stage and 101,000 children in Sussex County schools,” Grimes said. “Sussex County was an arts desert before the Freeman Stage.
“We have put Sussex County on the map as a place where everyone can come and enjoy the arts. We are the third-largest arts organization in the state of Delaware,” she told council.
In 2008, the Freeman Stage had 13,500 patrons. This past season, the stage saw 58,000 visitors. She said an expanded stage could boost attendance to more than 70,000 visitors.
Grimes said over the past 11 years, the Freeman Stage has pumped $30 million into the Sussex County economy, about $3 million this past year alone. Grimes said the University of Delaware has started an economic analysis on the financial impact of the venue. “We are told the $30 million figure is woefully low,” she said.
Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said he was embarrassed that the county contributes $10,000 to the foundation’s $4.7 million annual budget. “It's one of the best investments the council makes,” he said.
“You are truly an inspiration,” he told Grimes. “Thank you for the impact you have on this community.”
Over the years, Freeman Stage has hosted many well-known performers such as Chicago, LeAnn Rimes, Cheap Trick, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Gypsy Kings, B-52s, Michael Bolton, Temptations, Stevie Nicks, Smokey Robinson, Beach Boys, Hall and Oates and Pat Benatar.
THE FREEMAN STAGE IN 2018
$4.7 million budget
13 full-time and 32 seasonal staff
$3.1 million economic impact
19,000 students in Arts in Education program in 9 school districts