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Groundbreaking for open-air music event in Brunswick County imminent

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Brunswick County families could enjoy live music at a tranquil, wooded outdoor venue next year.

Construction is set to begin soon on Cumberland Woods, an outdoor performance venue in rural Brunswick County, after a special use permit was granted for the project. Peter Higgins and Steve Shuttleworth, owners of Cumberland Woods and residents of New Hanover County, hope to build a family-friendly music and events venue in a wooded, currently vacant area off Galloway Road in Bolivia.

Higgins said he has a background in sales and marketing, and Shuttleworth is a local developer. The two self-proclaimed “Deadheads” said the venue's name was inspired by the Grateful Dead song “Cumberland Blues.”

The two have begun winding down their respective careers, and after “talking about this dream for many years,” Higgins said they felt now was the right time to make it a reality.

The two purchased 352 acres of land about two and a half years ago and dreamed of developing part of it for this vision. The business partners want to create an outdoor event venue between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Bolivia, the capital of Brunswick County, is about 20 miles south of downtown Wilmington and 40 miles east of Myrtle Beach.

Approval of the project was a lengthy process, Higgins said. After a year and a half of planning and review, a special use permit for the project was recently granted by the Brunswick County Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The land is zoned for low-density commercial development. While this zoning allows for the construction of breweries, bars and other commercial and residential services, outdoor entertainment is not permitted. A special permit from the county was required to build a venue for live music and events.

Higgins envisions a family-friendly venue for live music and other events, where shows start fairly early in the evening and end before 11 p.m. The venue will serve beer and wine, he said, but no alcohol. Instead of cooking on-site, Shuttleworth said they hope to hire local food trucks for the events.

News of the proposed project sparked some controversy in the community. An online petition began circulating earlier this year calling for the project to be stopped, arguing that there was no demand for such a space and that the noise and traffic would impact the area's environment and wildlife. The petition has garnered nearly 150 signatures since it was launched.

Higgins said of the 352-acre property, only 28 acres have been set aside for this project, in the hope that the extra space would provide a natural sound barrier. The stage area will face away from Galloway Road and toward the rest of the wooded property. Of the affected area, the pair added, only about 10 acres have actually been cleared of trees and planted with grass for parking and seating.

“We are very aware of their concerns and want to be good neighbors,” Higgins said. “We intentionally purchased 350 acres, of which we use 30.”

Brunswick County is growing rapidly. Residents have been speaking out against any kind of development in recent months, showing up at planning board meetings to protest every new project proposed. Higgins said there is a lot of interest in the land and other developers are interested in developing the entire property.

“If we hadn't gotten approval and sold the land, someone else would have developed it,” Higgins said. “It's not just going to sit idle.”

Maintaining the integrity of the site was critical to the vision of the space, Shuttleworth said, both for aesthetic reasons and as a natural sound barrier.

“Our goal is to keep everything as natural as possible,” Higgins said. “We'll have grass parking, the event area will have grass. We'll leave as many trees as possible.”

Nearby outdoor music venues include Live Oak Bank Pavilion in Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater in Greenfield Park, also in Wilmington. Live Nation manages both venues in Wilmington. Cumberland Woods, Higgins said, hopes to offer other events in addition to music, such as farmers markets or car shows, that are different from those nearby venues.

Higgins said they plan to start building the stage and restroom area in the coming months and hope to host events early next year.

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Higgins said he doesn't yet know what the future holds for the rest of the property.

Jamey Cross covers Brunswick County for StarNews. Reach her at [email protected] or message her on Twitter/X @jameybcross.