The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home about a year ago, when the organizers of the Waterfront Blues Festival announced that they were canceling the annual event. Normally, tens of thousands of people cram into Tom McCall Waterfront Park for the three-day festival. But that just couldn’t happen last year. The festival will be back this summer, but it’s going to be different. OPB Morning Edition Host Geoff Norcross spoke with Christina Fuller, co-owner of Fuller Events, which is putting on the Blues Festival this year.

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Geoff Norcross: Can you hit some of the main things that are going to be different in the interest of keeping people safe?

Christina Fuller: We’re used to, as you mentioned, tens of thousands of people over July 4th weekend, and we’re now looking at hundreds per day — instead of thousands — in a limited-capacity, socially-distanced setting. Folks will now be with their groups, with their quarantine pods, within these seating areas. So I think that’s an obvious notable difference.

Norcross: The Waterfront Blues Festival was just one event that is planned for this new venue that you’re running. It’s called “The Lot at Zidell Yards.” And this is in the South Waterfront neighborhood, in an old heavy industrial area where a lot of shipbuilding happened. And the Zidell family was planning on redeveloping this area for years. How did COVID-19 change things? Did you have to purposely design this space to be COVID-19 safe when you were coming up with the concept for The Lot at Zidell Yards?

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Fuller: Yes, it is absolutely an idea that came out of necessity, due to the pandemic, of looking for a solution to get back safely to live events and live music and what the property provides is an abundance of space. It’s outdoors. It’s centrally located in our city, with great access to public transportation, but has controlled access points so that crowd size and attendance can really be managed, so that it is thoughtful and spaced out, and not a free-for-all by any means.

Renderings of The Lot at Zidell Yards, a socially distanced event space on the south waterfront in Portland.

Renderings of The Lot at Zidell Yards, a socially distanced event space on the south waterfront in Portland.

Courtesy of Fuller Events

Norcross: What else are you going to use the space for?

Fuller: The space is going to be opened up for movies, we’re going to be programming all sorts of music throughout the summer on various nights. We’re opening the space also for rental for other organizations that haven’t had a place to go, that are normally at an indoor venue. It’s also available for nonprofits to do charity functions. All of the things that we’ve lost this last year, where we had to switch to something virtual, reintroducing on a small, safe scale. Something in person where you can really feel the magic of what happens when you’re around other people.

Norcross: The COVID-19 pandemic has upset everybody’s apple cart. But outdoor performance business, I can’t imagine. Can you tell me what it’s like to be in your business over the past year?

Fuller: It’s devastating. Truthfully, it was something that none of us saw. I mean, you can say that across industries, but we were fully wiped out. And not only were our industries closed, we weren’t even allowed to open in creative ways, necessarily, since there were no gatherings allowed. And so we were all out of work, had to lay off our teams, our employees and see our industry coming to a screeching stall. So the economics of it are devastating, but also the loss of the value of what these organizations, and performances, and festivals, what sort of value they add to our community; that was lost as well. And so equally as important this summer is that this space is being created to get people back to work.


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