Plans to build a new Freeman Arts Pavilion are moving forward after Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission approved final and temporary site plans at its Nov. 12 meeting.
The $27 million, 1,010-seat venue in the Americana Bayside community near Fenwick Island received preliminary site-plan approval in March, just before the COVID-19 state of emergency was instituted.
Because of the virus, a modified schedule was put into place, but attendance was restricted to 400 patrons in socially distanced pods. Officials said the restricted attendance is not sustainable to support another season of concerts and events.
Planning for the future, and the possible continuation of restrictions during the 2021 season, Freeman will temporarily phase in pods for more than 2,000 patrons, to match pre-COVID attendance, during construction of the new venue adjacent to the existing Freeman Stage.
The commission approved the final site plan and a temporary amendment for phased-in seating to accommodate state and CDC health guidelines.
When completed in four to six years, the 9-acre venue will have 876 parking spaces. Included is a plan to provide 850 covered seats.
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.
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.
“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,” said Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Executive Director Patti Grimes during a county meeting last year. “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. Sussex County was an arts desert before the Freeman Stage.”
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 & Oates, and Pat Benatar.
Last year's schedule was scaled back and featured mostly local and regional talent.