Briefs from January and February 2006
By Chris Busby
February 27, 2006
Photo Collective A Go-Going to Westbrook
Citing high rent and a lack of affordable space in Portland, The Bakery Photographic Collective (BPiC) is leaving town after six years and moving to the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook.
The non-profit organization of fine art and commercial photographers took over the former Maine Photo Co-Op on Oak Street and relocated to the Calderwood Bakery building on Pleasant Street several years ago. Rising rent there compelled the 25 photographers who comprise the collective to begin seeking another space last year, but prospects of relocating in Portland were bleak, said co-director Tanja Hollander.
By contrast, Hollander said, Westbrook has plenty of large, affordable spaces for artists’ studios, and city officials practically rolled out a red carpet encouraging BPiC to relocate there. Hollander said the collective made no formal effort to contact Portland city officials prior to make the decision to move.
BPiC’s relocation, scheduled to take place July 1, will give the collective over four times as much space as it had on Pleasant Street. With its new 4,000-square-foot headquarters, the collective plans to double the number of darkrooms it operates, from four to eight, and add an office, a digital lab, gallery space, a photography studio, and a classroom, according to a press release announcing the move.
The classroom will allow the group to begin offering educational programs for the first time. BPiC already hosts a lecture series featuring photographers of local and national stature, and has a visiting artist program. Its annual print auction, called “Photo A GoGo,” features the work of over 100 local photographers, and draws hundreds of photo enthusiasts every year.
February 23, 2006
The Tree, replanted
The Tree, a legendary music venue on Danforth Street that closed over a decade ago, has been reborn. At its Feb. 22 meeting, a majority of the Portland City Council voted to grant the building’s new owners — Jill and Joe Cooper, of Cumberland — liquor and entertainment licenses to reopen the venue, which was last occupied by Sisters, a bar catering to the lesbian community.
By necessity, the council also granted the Coopers the last available Old Port Overlay License. The Tree is located just inside the western edge of the Old Port Overlay Zone, a special zone created to limit the number of bars in the tourist, shopping and nightlife district. Last month, councilors reduced the number of licenses available to operate bars in the zone from 27 to 24. Twenty-two businesses had Overlay Licenses at the time, but Bull Feeney’s, a pub on Fore Street that previously operated without the special license, requested and received one a couple weeks ago. Only establishments that generate over half their revenue from alcohol sales need the Overlay License.
Several nearby residents spoke against the Coopers’ plans, citing concerns about parking, noise and potential problems stemming from patrons leaving the building. One neighbor, an elderly lady, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the venue will enhance the neighborhood.
Councilors Karen Geraghty and Will Gorham, in whose district the business will reside, voted against the liquor and entertainment license applications, citing the neighbors’ concerns. Councilor Jim Cloutier recused himself from the vote, but the remaining councilors said they had no good reason to deny the Coopers’ application.
Joe Cooper said The Tree will primarily operate as a function hall for private and corporate events. He said he plans to host two or three public musical performances per month, mostly by jazz and blues artists. A back deck and outdoor bar behind the building will be closed, Cooper said, to help alleviate neighbors’ concerns.
Though several councilors in addition to Geraghty and Gorham were inclined to deny the licenses, they noted that a denial would most likely be successfully challenged in court, since current zoning allows for the use the Coopers envision. After extensive renovation work is complete, The Tree is expected to open this summer.
Missing man found dead
Robert Wagner, the 28-year-old who disappeared last week after a night at a Portland strip club, was found dead in the woods of Baldwin yesterday, Portland Police Chief Tim Burton told the Portland Press Herald. Authorities arrested a friend of Wagner’s, Steven M. Clark, of Portland, on suspicion of murder, the daily reported today.
February 18, 2006
Man missing after night at strip club
Portland police are searching for a man last seen in the parking lot of Platinum Plus, the strip club on Riverside Street in Portland, at dawn on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
At a press conference yesterday, Deputy Chief Bill Ridge said Robert Wagner, 28, was at the club with several acquaintances on Tuesday night. Shortly before 2 a.m., police say Wagner left his silver 2002 Toyota 4Runner (Maine license plate number 899NJ) in the strip club’s parking lot and went to a private residence. Ridge said there were three people at the house for a period of three hours, but would not comment beyond that, citing the ongoing investigation.
At dawn on Wednesday, a member of the group drove Wagner back to the parking lot, ostensibly so he could pick up his vehicle, but Wagner has not been seen since. Wagner’s brother reported him missing after he failed to make several business and personal appointments last week.
Police say Wagner is 5-feet-9-inches tall, weighs 210 pounds, and works as a mortgage broker, primarily out of his home on Larrabee Lane in Gray. He is married, but apparently lives alone. Anyone with information about Wagner’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Portland Police Department at 874-8908 or by dialing 911.
“Fnord” free after 84 days in jail and $150 restitution
After initially facing the prospect of having to pay over $3,600 in restitution, infamous graffiti tagger Eric White has been ordered to pay just $150 – in six $25 monthly installments – for scrawling the nonsense word “fnord” on property in Bayside last fall. White, 22, also served 84 days in the Cumberland County Jail on four counts of criminal mischief stemming from the graffiti spree. He was released last month, and will serve no additional jail time as a result of this latest arrest. (See the Briefs item below for more information.)
At a Feb. 17 sentencing hearing, Superior Court Justice Thomas D. Warren slashed the restitution sum sought by District Attorney Stephanie Anderson’s office after noting that White, who is homeless and unemployed, has limited ability to repay property owners. White claims to suffer from mental disabilities that impair his ability to work.
Prosecutor Michael Madigan read an excerpt from The Bollard‘s October jailhouse interview with White in which, asked to explain his disability, White said he suffers from “ergo phobia, fear of work.” Justice Warren said the question of whether White’s disability is valid is not a matter for his court to decide.
Prosecutors had initially sought $3,640 in restitution, but later reduced that to $1,641. Justice Warren said the D.A.’s Office had not provided adequate documentation to justify even that level of restitution.
Representatives of Anderson’s office had sought to obtain the recording of the interview The Bollard conducted with White last fall. Informed that the interview had been erased, they threatened to subpoena this reporter to testify about the interview, but ultimately did not do so.
The D.A.’s Office was able to get bank statements indicating that White has received both lump sum and monthly disability payments which at times totaled several thousand dollars. Most of that money, however, has been spent to repay loans to family members, according to White and his mother, who previously controlled White’s bank account and provided written financial details to the D.A.
White has said he hopes to begin college-level art classes soon. As for his graffiti career, he told Justice Warren, “I’ve been really good lately. My girlfriend’s keeping me on a tight leash.”
February 13, 2006
Geno D’Alessandro Sr. passes at 68
Legendary Portland bar owner Geno D’Alessandro died on Feb. 9. He was 68, and passed away following a spate of recent health problems.
D’Alessandro owned and operated Geno’s, a renowned bar and music venue on Brown Street, for over 21 years. Prior to that, he owned the bar formerly known as The Brass Rail, on Forest Avenue, and had owned and operated various other eating and drinking establishments in New England.
D’Alessandro was also an active harness racing driver well into his 60s, as well as an owner and trainer. His passion for horses and horse racing spanned over four decades.
Hundreds of rock bands from throughout New England descended into Geno’s subterranean club over the years, where they found a stage, a receptive audience, and a proprietor, D’Alessandro, willing to treat them with fairness and respect.
Among thousands of patrons and an extended family of friends and regulars, D’Alessandro is remembered for his kindness, his good humor, his wisdom, and his strong support of the music and arts community in Portland and beyond.
Last winter, Geno’s was displaced from its Brown Street home by a group of investors who bought its building with plans to build “artist condos” above the club. D’Alessandro and his son, J.R., reopened the club last summer at 625 Congress St., an old theater previously occupied by The Skinny.
In addition to rock shows, Geno’s also hosted performances across the musical spectrum, from alt-country to hip hop, as well as dance nights, theater productions and poetry readings. J.R. D’Alessandro will continue to operate the nightclub.
Private ceremonies for D’Alessandro are being held in Portland and upstate New York. A public memorial event will be held at Geno’s at a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations in D’Alessandro’s name can be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. For information, seewww.stjude.org.
The Bollard will be publishing readers’ memories and stories of D’Alessandro throughout this week. Thoughts and photos can be sent firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 6, 2006
Gorham postpones council action on drug zones
City Councilor Will Gorham, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, has postponed full council action on the law to expand so-called “drug-free safe zones” in Portland. Gorham’s committee gave the law a unanimous endorsement last month, but it could be another month before the entire council considers the law.
“I’m trying to refine it,” Gorham said. “I want to make sure it’s done correctly, that it targets those we want to target.”
Gorham, who represents the East End, much of downtown Portland and the island neighborhoods, is seeking more information about the law’s impact and legal consequences from Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson and Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara.
Gorham said The Bollard‘s special investigation of the issue, published after the Public Safety Committee vote, “certainly got my wheels turning.”
“If [the law] does have flaws, we need to recognize and correct it,” Gorham said.
The Portland City Council, however, has limited ability to alter the state law. The municipality can decide how many zones to create and where they should be, but it cannot change the size of the zones, alter the wording on signs announcing the zones, or change the degree of punishment offenders face for dealing drugs inside a “safe zone.”
January 26, 2006
Fnord free on bail
Eric White, the graffiti tagger arrested and charged with writing “fnord” on cars and buildings in Bayside last fall, is out on bail after serving 84 days in the Cumberland County Jail.
White, a 22-year-old from Newport, Maine, pled guilty to four counts of criminal mischief earlier this month. He faces 60 days in jail for each count – nearly eight months of jail time, but just over five more months behind bars if given credit for time served. The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office is also seeking $3,640 in restitution.
A sentencing hearing before Superior Court Justice Thomas D. Warren has been scheduled for Feb. 7.
In a jailhouse interview published by The Bollard on Oct. 23, White said he receives close to $600 per month in disability payments – he said he suffers from “ergo phobia, fear of work.”
“I’ve got like $6,000 in the bank,” said White, who is homeless and claimed poverty in court documents requesting a court-appointed attorney. He said he had intended to use that money to rent an apartment prior to being arrested and jailed.
Last June, White was arrested for spray-painting “fnord” on the Cumberland County Civic Center. He was fined $150 and served three days in jail.
The D.A.’s Office has expressed interest in obtaining the recording of The Bollard‘s October interview with White. Prosecutors are specifically interested in the portion of the interview during which White claims to have roughly $6,000 “in the bank.”
Informed that the interview was erased months ago, the D.A.’s Office has threatened to subpoena this reporter to testify at White’s sentencing hearing. No subpoena has yet been served.
As The Bollard reported on Oct. 23, White said he came to Portland in early 2003, and began writing “fnord” on buildings, signs and sidewalks here shortly thereafter. Since his arrival in town, several others have also taken up the tag, he said, and White estimated there may have been as many as 1,000 “fnord” tags made by himself and others throughout the city.
“Fnord” is a nonsensical word popularized by science fiction writers Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in their Illuminatus! trilogy. The writers suggested that the word’s appearance in newspapers and other media would not be consciously noticed, but would create subconscious feelings of anxiety in readers.
“It is supposed to be a subliminal message,” White said last fall during the interview. “It’s supposed to cause anger, confusion, and all kinds of different stuff. And it seems to be working, ’cause it does piss a lot of people off. A lot of people around town hate me.”
January 23, 2006
Baby step toward new Civic Center name
The board of trustees that oversees the Cumberland County Civic Center took a small step toward seeking a new name for the venue at its Jan. 18 meeting. The board voted to craft a request for proposals from entities qualified to broker a naming-rights agreement. This broker would be asked to survey the market and report back to the board with information, such as how much money the county-owned facility could realize by selling naming rights to a corporate sponsor.
Owners of the Portland Pirates minor league hockey team pressed the board to consider selling naming rights last year. Team owners also suggested they could broker the deal themselves, for a small cut of the proceeds, but the board balked at that arrangement. The agreement that preserved the county-centric name for a decade expired last year.
At the Jan. 18 meeting, board members discussed inserting language in the request for proposals (or RFP) that would preclude involvement by the Pirates, but ultimately decided that was unnecessary. Brokers with previous experience making naming-rights deals will be given more consideration than groups lacking that expertise, they noted.
A draft of the RFP will be discussed at the board’s February meeting.
January 7, 2006
Booking agent quits Center for Cultural Exchange
Ryan McMaken, the Program Director at the Center for Cultural Exchange, has resigned from the non-profit organization, casting greater uncertainty over the future of the leaderless institution. Last month, CCE board members said financial challenges will likely force them to sell the Center’s Longfellow Square performance space and offices this year.
McMaken was considered by CCE board president Jay Young and others to be a strong candidate to lead the Center following the unexpected departure of Executive Director Phyllis O’Neill and Artistic Director Bau Graves. McMaken said the search for a new executive director will begin in mid-January.
Neither Young nor board vice president Chris Kast returned calls seeking comment Friday.
Graves and O’Neill founded the CCE in the late 1990s, and led the organization until last October. Graves has taken a new job in Virginia, and O’Neill, his wife, left with him last month. McMaken had been working closely with Graves during his three years with the Center, but said he too learned of the couple’s intention to leave about three months ago.
“This whole transition has been very hard and fast,” said McMaken, who’s booked acts at the CCE for the past two-and-a-half years.
McMaken said that though is departure “could look like a scandal or a scandalous event,” his decision is purely personal, not associated with the situation at the Center. “I’ve been thinking about getting out of non-profit arts for awhile,” he said.
McMaken will stay on through the end of this month. He said the Center has typically not booked performances for January. A few shows had been scheduled for next month, but McMaken said he is looking for other venues to host those performances.
Echoing hopes expressed by board members, McMaken said the CCE’s educational programs and other cultural outreach activities may continue even if the Center’s performance space is sold.
January 5, 2006
Scharf will not sue school board
Republican activist and city government watchdog Steven Scharf will not follow through on a threat to sue the Portland School Committee. Scharf had an angry exchange with school board Chairwoman Ellen Alcorn during the board’s Dec. 14 meeting, when Alcorn did not provide an opportunity for public comment before the board voted on a raise for Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor.
Scharf vowed to sue the board for not holding the comment period, but said in a recent interview that the cost of pursuing legal action was prohibitive.
Former board chair Jonathan Radtke had offered the public a chance to comment on the raise when it was first considered during the board’s Nov. 30 meeting, but no one did so. Scharf was in attendance during that meeting.
Alcorn said at last month’s meeting that no public comment would be taken because the super’s salary was a personnel matter. Scharf said he was told by school board legal counsel Harry Pringle after the Dec. 14 fracas that no state law requires the board to take public comment on this or any other matter.
” There are more important things in life than suing on that,” Scharf said.