Briefs from July and August 2006
By Chris Busby
August 29, 2006
Art gallery owner making council run
Artist and gallery owner Andy Verzosa is running for a seat on the Portland City Council. Long a leading figure in Portland’s arts community, Verzosa is a past president of the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance (PACA), and was instrumental in organizing the monthly First Friday Art Walk several years ago. He has owned Aucocisco Gallery for seven years, and recently expanded the gallery’s Congress Street space.
Verzosa, 43, is collecting signatures to challenge incumbent at-large Councilor Nick Mavodones. Candidates have until Sept. 5 to submit nomination signatures to the City Clerk’s office to get on the ballot this November.
Neighborhood activist Christina Feller is also running for Mavodones’ seat. An employee of the City Clerk’s office said Feller had submitted signatures, but fell a few signatures short of the total required, and is now gathering more. Another would-be candidate, Scott Dow, said family issues have prompted him to postpone a run for city office this year. Mavodones has not yet submitted his nomination signatures.
Verzosa said he’s not running on any single issue. “I think I can do an excellent job” as a councilor, he said. “I love Portland and I’m enthusiastic about this city.” As a business owner and renter – he and his partner live in the West End – Verzosa said, “I know what the tempo of the city is…. [and] I know a lot of different people from different areas” of the city and its culture. “I’ll be able to hear both sides.”
August 23, 2006
Miss Portland Diner deal approved
The historic Miss Portland Diner got one step closer to rebirth Monday night when the Portland City Council approved a deal to sell the diner and about 6,000 square feet of city property on Marginal Way for $100,000.
The diner’s new owner is Tom Manning, a former Portlander who works in New York City for Newsweek magazine. Manning plans to add an additional dining room to the diner, but is otherwise expected to keep the 57-year-old eatery intact. The diner will be relocated between the skate park and the former “USM lot” at the corner of Marginal Way and Preble Street. That lot is being developed into an office tower and student housing complex with over 400 rooms.
Manning bought the land, currently occupied by a bus shelter, for $75,000; the diner for $25,000. Longtime proprietor Randall Chasse donated the diner to the city In January of 2004, after having failed to find a new owner through a pay-to-enter essay contest and by listing it on eBay. The city accepted it in hopes of finding a new owner who would reopen the diner in Bayside.
Last year, a deal with a former restaurateur from Falmouth fell through after a police investigation of the would-be-owner turned up financial problems. Pending planning board approval, the reborn diner could open by the end of this year.
August 17, 2006
New Public Market space taking shape
With help from a new investor, four tenants of the Portland Public Market are readying to set up shop in Monument Square early next month.
As we reported last May, a group of four current and former Public Market vendors has banded together in anticipation of opening a smaller version of the market in the Emerson Clapp Building in Monument Square, last occupied by The Surplus Store. The businesses include Maine Beer and Beverage, K. Horton’s Specialty Foods, A Country Bouquet and Big Sky Bread Company.
The group was originally working with Alex Tessman, an executive and co-owner of PROTEA Behavioral Health Services. Tessman was leasing the building from developer Jeffrey Cohen, but was not in a position to get the property renovated in the timeframe the vendors needed.
In stepped Alan Mooney, principal owner of Criterium-Mooney Engineers and owner of the building next to the former Surplus Store, at 22 Monument Square (David’s Restaurant occupies the first floor of this building). Mooney, together with partners Susan Mooney and David Verrill, have put the building’s renovations on the fast-track.
The renovations, according to a press release, will take place in three phases. During the first phase, the four-story building’s ground floor and basement will be renovated into retail space for the four tenants. During the second phase, restorations to the building’s façade are expected to be undertaken and completed by early next year. The final phase involves renovation of the upper three floors. The second floor in expected to provide more retail space; the upper two floors will be offices.
Mooney and his partners have taken over the building’s lease from Tessman, and expect to purchase the building from Cohen early next year. The new market will be called the Market House, a reference to a building called the Market House located in Monument Square (then called Hay Market Square) in the early 1800s.
August 16, 2006
Civic Center board pursuing new name
The board of trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center is moving forward with efforts to sell the public facility’s naming rights. Board chairman Dale Olmstead, Jr., town manager of Freeport, said a consultant specializing in the sale of naming rights has developed a list of potential businesses interested in putting their moniker on the Spring Street building. The board may consider a formal proposal from one of these businesses in the next few months.
Olmstead said the board agreed today on two matters relating to the sale. One, that the new name will not necessarily need to have the words “Cumberland County” in it. And secondly, that proceeds from a sale will be put toward the civic center’s capital needs, such as physical improvements to the building.
Olmstead declined to give even a ballpark figure for the naming rights’ value, citing the ongoing negotiations with potential buyers. Last fall, Brian Petrovek, owner of the Portland Pirates minor league hockey team that plays its home games at the civic center, told the Portland Press Herald he thinks the center could get as much as $175,000 in annual revenue from a naming-rights deal.
The late philanthropist Elizabeth “Betty” Noyce had struck a deal with civic center administrators in the mid-1990s whereby Noyce contributed over $1 million to the building over a 10-year term on condition the name remain the Cumberland County Civic Center – in deference to the county taxpayers who help support it. That agreement expired at the end of last year.
August 5, 2006
Alehouse to close
Sunday, August 20, will be The Alehouse’s last day. The popular Old Port rock club is closing after six years on Market Street. Disputes between club owner Russ Riseman and his landlord, Eric Cianchette (ELC Inc.), had flared again in the past year, and by spring, both sides were suing each other. At the end of July, Riseman called it quits, citing the burden of the legal wrangling and the forthcoming burden posed by the city’s recent tripling of a special fee applied to Old Port watering holes.
There won’t be a big farewell party, because the terms of Riseman and Cianchette’s parting agreement prevent the bar from hosting any events or entertainment not previously booked, said Riseman and his attorney, Dan Skolnik. Riseman said he hopes to find another location for a bar and music club in short order – this time, outside the Old Port.
July 26, 2006
Vote or Quit Bitchin’ 2006
Local election coverage
Rocker replaces rocker against Rep. Herb Adams
State Senate hopeful Babin to face former campaign manager
This year’s races for Maine State House and Senate seats are beginning to take official shape, as political parties replace “placeholder” candidates with contenders they hope will actually campaign.
As we reported in Briefs back in April, one such placeholder was Jason Rogers, a local indie rocker who held the Green Independent Party’s spot on the ballot for the House District 119 (Bayside and Parkside) race. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Herb Adams is running again for that seat, and the Republicans’ horse is Jason LaVoie, a conservative University of Southern Maine student activist.
Rogers has been replaced by another guitar-slinging Green, Matt Reading. Reading, 24, said he was inspired to run by Rep. John Eder, the West End Green whom he worked for at the State House a few years ago. He’s also been inspired by Warren Haynes, the former Allman Brothers ax-man now shredding Southern rock in Gov’t Mule.
Reading is not currently in a band. Rogers’ band, Diamond Sharp, plays this Friday at Space Gallery.
In another semi-interesting twist, Karl Rawstron, the Greens’ placeholder in the District 8 State Senate race against incumbent Ethan Strimling, has been replaced by Kelsey Perchinski, office manager and DJ at WMPG. The Republican candidate is David Babin, who ran and lost (badly) against Strimling two years ago.
Babin’s campaign manager in that race: Kelsey Perchinski.
“He’s completely fine with it,” Perchinski said of Babin, who confirmed that he supports Perchinski’s candidacy. “I certainly plan to help Kelsey in any way I can (she has all the dirt on me),” Babin wrote in an e-mail to The Bollard.
Rawstron, meanwhile, now has more free time to get ready for the rumored reunion of Sex Sells, the short-lived Portland indie-pop trio he fronted with bassist Meghan Conley (now Meghan Busby, this reporter’s wife).
In non-rockin’ political news, the Elephant Party has been unable to find a candidate to run in the House District 118 (West End) race against Eder and Democratic contender Jon Hinck. Perhaps that’s just as well, as the last time Republicans had a candidate in this liberal district, she neglected to campaign and ended up endorsing Eder.
That’s not likely to happen this year on the East End, where the Republicans have replaced Douglas Calderbank with Jeffrey Ferland.
“Since 1997 we’ve ranked as the state with the highest tax burden, and since that time, our neighbor New Hampshire hasn’t ranked worse than 48th,” Ferland wrote in a July 22 e-mail declaring his candidacy. “I’m finding it hard to believe that 49 other states can handle their budgets better than us, and still have the same kinds of services.”
Ferland is an information technology consultant and auditor at a local accounting firm (he declined to disclose his employer’s name). He’s also 21 years old. His opponents in the House District 120 race are Portland School Committee member and Green “Zen” Ben Meiklejohn, and Anne Rand, a veteran Democratic state legislator seeking to return to Augusta.
July 18, 2006
Drinking and judging
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson had some straight talk for Portland Mayor Jim Cohen’s Old Port Nightlife Task Force when she attended the group’s July 11 meeting. “The real problem is not lack of [law] enforcement,” the D.A. said. “It’s the over-serving and over-consumption of alcohol – it’s as simple as that.”
The task force has been mulling a host of new measures to curb problems caused by drunks in the Old Port – from banning “Happy Hour” drink specials to expanding the number of bars subject to a special “seat tax” intended to help pay for extra cops. But Anderson said there are already enough cops policing behavior outside the bars. It’s the over-service issues inside these establishments that need attention.
“You need to start going after bar owners and their employees,” she said.
Task force members have suggested that tougher penalties for Old Port troublemakers could help reduce assaults and other problems in the tourism and entertainment district. But Anderson said judges, much to the frustration of her office, are not inclined to impose stiff fines or jail time for Old Port miscreants. “There’s a belief among the judiciary that if it happened in the Old Port, ‘big deal,'” said Anderson.
These judges “don’t go to the Old Port on Friday and Saturday night,” prosecutor Jennifer Norbert noted at the task force meeting. Their attitude toward victims of crime in the area is “‘you go to the Old Port, you’re asking for it anyway,'” Norbert added.
Compounding the difficulty of convicting Old Port perpetrators is the fact witnesses who have also been drinking are often not deemed credible by judges, Norbert said.
It’s not a criminal violation to serve booze to a visibly intoxicated person, but there are civil penalties bar owners and bartenders are subject to if they do so, said Anderson. She faulted Gov. John Baldacci for eliminating the state’s Bureau of Liquor Enforcement several summers ago, a cut that effectively made liquor enforcement the job of local police forces, like Portland’s.
The task force is expected to make formal recommendations to the mayor and council at the end of September.
Speaking of over-service, the Casco Bay Island Transit District is finally getting more police muscle to help handle drunks arriving on the ferry from Peaks Island after the “Reggae Sunday” events at Jones Landing. On July 2, revelers on the Sunday evening boat, several of them staggering drunk, were greeted by five uniformed Portland cops, who watched them disembark without incident. Last weekend, however, islanders and ferry crew again reported a host of problems, from people picking fights to drunks laying atop cars on the ferry ride back.
The ferry service already pays for a private security officer and a cop to ride the boats to and from Peaks on Sundays, but its management had long requested additional police to discourage misbehavior on and off the boats.
Jones Landing is only open to the public for the Sunday afternoon reggae shows (the waterfront establishment is otherwise rented for private functions). In addition to the police officer on the boat, the regular team of two island cops tries to keep the peace while reggae fans make the short walk from the boat landing to the bar and back.
Thus, on Sunday afternoons, a total of eight uniformed officers (plus the private security guard) are specifically assigned to police Jones Landing patrons, making Jones Landing the single most heavily policed bar in Portland, and likely the entire state of Maine, if not the entire northern New England region.
Jones Landing, by the way, is not subject to the special “seat tax” Old Port bars must pay to help cover law enforcement costs in the area. And in fairness, the establishment is not responsible for all the boozing that causes problems on the ferry. It’s legal to drink on the ferry itself – there is no bar service, but passengers can bring and consume as much booze onboard as they want.