Gossip from January and February 2007
By Chris Busby, except as noted
February 23, 2007
Local media shuffle
There’s been a mini-shake-up of late in Portland’s print media market. ThePortland Phoenix, franchise weekly of the Boston-based Phoenix Media and Communications Group, has lost its sole staff writer, Sara Donnelly, to the biweekly business paper Mainebiz. Donnelly replaces senior writer Chris Churchill, who’s taken a job with the Albany Times Union, a daily covering New York’s capitol region that’s owned by the Hearst Corporation.
Donnelly’s cross-town move is curious, in that Phoenix reporters and other employees must sign so-called “no-compete” agreements barring them from working for competing publications for a year or more after their departure. Both Donnelly and Portland Phoenix managing editor Jeff Inglis said the “no-compete” was not an issue in this case. Donnelly said Mainebiz is not considered competition by her former bosses at the alternative weekly. (The Phoenix does consider The Bollard “competition,” to the point that even freelance contributors are told they must choose between the two. The Bollard has no such policy.)
Though the Phoenix tries to keep its own workers from fleeing the coop to competitors, it has no qualms about trying to poach writers from other papers in the same market. Shortly after Donnelly’s departure, Inglis called Portland Forecaster reporter Kate Bucklin and offered her the job. Bucklin turned him down.
Mainebiz is going through some other changes, too. Editor Sean Donahue has been temporarily replaced by former Mainebiz editor Scott Sutherland. Before becoming editor of Mainebiz for the first time, in early 2000, Sutherland worked at Casco Bay Weekly and for the Portland Press Herald, where he wrote a local music column in the late 1990s. His work has also appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone.
Sutherland said his stint as interim editor will probably last into this spring. His wife, Amy Sutherland, was a features writer at the Press Herald for eight years. She made a national splash last summer upon publication of her second book,Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World’s Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers.
Mainebiz announced earlier this month that two executives of its parent company, Massachusetts-based Worcester Publishing Ltd., have started a new publishing company called New England Business Media LLC. New England Business Media will take over ownership of Mainebiz, the Hartford Business Journal and the Worcester Business Journal from Worcester Publishing, which will continue to publish the altweekly Worcester Magazine. The swap becomes official on April 1.
And yes, the rumors are true: The Bollard has plans to launch a free quarterly publication this June. Full details coming soon…
Liberal weekly, indie rock, the Marines?
The Boston-based Phoenix Media and Communications Group has two sides: a publishing arm that puts out the Boston Phoenix, Portland Phoenix and other print publications and services; and an alternative rock radio network that extends from Massachusetts into Maine and New Hampshire.
Now it seems the PMCG also has two faces: one critical of the global war on terror and one willing to use its alternative media credentials to help enlist its readers and listeners into the war machine.
In the latest issue of Arthur magazine, a national bimonthly publication that focuses on lefty politics and indie rock, Kyp Malone of the band TV on the Radio recounts his experience playing an outdoor show in Boston last August sponsored by WFNX, the PMCG’s Beantown station. Among the show’s corporate sponsors was a public sponsor: the United States Marine Corp., which had recruiters at the event.
The military’s presence drew fire from the vocal anti-war band, who threatened not to play and then proceeded to introduce each number by announcing, “‘This song is about not joining the Marines…. And this song is about not joining the Marines,'” Malone told Arthur interviewer Jay Babcock.
After their set, things got ugly between band members, police, security guards and the ‘FNX DJs who hosted the gig. “‘I don’t want to be a commercial for the Marines – or anything else, but particularly not the Marines,'” Malone recalled saying, to which a DJ replied, according to Malone: “‘Yeah, well, you know they pay a lot of money and we gotta pay you.'”
Most WFNX and PMCG executives did not respond to requests for comment, but Marc Shepard, associate publisher of The Portland Phoenix, said it’s “a leap to say that supporting the war and [supporting] the military are the same thing.”
“I guess I just don’t see the connection,” Shepard added. “The average person is not anti-Marine, nor are they against the military because they are against the war…. [TV on the Radio] is making an unfortunate leap.”
Danny Muller, director of Peace Action Maine, disagrees there’s any “leap” between opposing the war and opposing those recruiting young people to fight it. Shepard’s defense “does not hold up at all,” Muller said.
“There is this disconnect between the defense of the United States and how defense is used,” said Muller. “Support for the military is a blanket to justify any action [the recruiter] takes. The recruitment system specifically is targeting at-risk youth and minorities.”
Portland School Committee member and musician “Zen” Ben Meiklejohn has worked successfully to limit military recruiters’ access to Portland high school students. He also contributes articles on classical music to The Portland Phoenix.
In an e-mailed response, Meiklejohn noted the irony of alternative rock stations’ embrace of the military. “It is strange that these radio stations which play music that is designed to be rebellious and anti-establishment, playing the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and other bands that vocally challenge and oppose governmental actions such as war, promote the military so vigorously,” he wrote.
In his review of the show, Boston Phoenix music writer Matt Ashare wrote that upwards of 15,000 people attended the event, which had “[a]ll the makings of a perfect rock and roll evening…. And then TV on the Radio had to go and ruin the good vibes by ending their set with a salvo against the Marines, who had signed on as one of the event’s sponsors.
“Now this is no place for a political rant,” Ashare continued, “but it’s worth noting — no, it’s crucial to understand, lest we fully repeat the mistakes of Viet Nam — that the Marines, Army reserves, and Navy and Air Force pilots currently fighting George Bush’s wars in the Middle East are doing just that, carrying out plans handed down by their commander in chief and doing their best not to get the asses blown to hell in the process. Soldiers take orders: they don’t make policy. To blame them for the mess in Iraq is to tacitly let the bureaucrats and politicians really responsible for the debacle off the hook.”
Ashare neglected to note in his review that his parent company organized and promoted the show.
— Alex Steed
February 17, 2007
Mayor Mavodones to marry island principal
Portland and its Peaks Island neighborhood may be headed for Splitsville, but the city’s mayor and the island elementary school’s principal are tying the knot.
Mayor Nick Mavodones, who turns 47 next week, is getting hitched to Kelly Hasson, 48, principal of the tiny elementary schools on Peaks and Cliff Island. Mavodones has three children from his previous marriage, which ended in divorce. This will be Hasson’s first marriage.
Hasson said she and Mavodones haven’t yet decided when or where to have the ceremony. The couple has been together a little over a year.
Mavodones could not be reached for comment, but sources say he approached this matter in typical fashion, thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons of the issue aloud in a calm, measured tone before deciding to pop the question. (OK, we made that last part up. Sorry, folks, that’s as juicy as it gets.)
February 13, 2007
City marketing director leaving
In the latest of a string of departures by upper management staff at City Hall, Marketing and Communications Manager Liz Darling is leaving after nearly 20 years with the City of Portland.
Darling departs March 2 to begin work with her husband’s commercial roofing company, Maine Roofing. Her departure follows the recent resignation of longtime city spokesperson Peter DeWitt, now with Time Warner Cable, and Economic Development Division Director Jack Lufkin, who’s taken a job with Gorham Savings Bank.
Assistant City Manager Larry Mead hit the road a few months ago to become the town manager of Kennebunkport. Inspection Division Director Mike Nugent also left last fall. The city’s Island and Neighborhood Services Administrator, Tom Fortier, took a job last month as town manager of Richmond after over 17 years with the city. And Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Aaron Shapiro left late last year to take a position in Cumberland County government.
Marine Operations and Facilities Manager Ben Snow was put on administrative leave a couple weeks ago after being arrested following a domestic disturbance at his Munjoy Hill home. The general manager of the Greater Portland Metro Transit District, Peter Cavanaugh, recently resigned his post, replaced by new Metro GM David Redlefsen. And on Jan. 1, Catherine Debo replaced longtime Casco Bay Lines GM Pat Christian.
Redlefsen, the new bus system manager, has a maritime background, and ferry company GM Debo most recently ran the bus system in Madison, Wisconsin, prompting city Ports and Transportation Director Capt. Jeff Monroe to quip that the two should switch jobs after a year.
February 9, 2007
Longfellow Square shuffle
Several businesses are opening, expanding or relocating in and around Portland’s Longfellow Square.
The restaurant and occasional music and arts venue Local 188, on State Street, will relocate a couple hundred feet away into a much larger space on the north side of Congress Street last occupied by City Soul Jewelers and a home security company. Owner Jay Villani said Local’s current location will close in April and the reborn restaurant and bar will open June 1. Plans call for more seating and bar space, a stage for live music, and an expanded menu offering dishes and breads baked on the premises in a large clay oven.
Once Local has moved, Cunningham Books owner Nancy Cunningham said it’s “probable” her rare-and-used bookstore will expand into the adjacent space. Contrary to a report last week in the Portland Forecaster, Longfellow Books, in Monument Square, has no intention of occupying the Longfellow Square space.
Meanwhile, the space formerly occupied by the Center for Cultural Exchange has been officially reborn as One Longfellow Square. Local artist Stephen Benenson and architect Christopher Campbell received liquor and entertainment licenses at the City Council’s Feb. 5 meeting.
The new venue will host a variety of art shows, performances and community events. For example, on Feb. 14, the culinary cultural group Slow Food Portland is having a Valentine’s Day oyster tasting featuring music by the jazz band Hot Club of Portland.
January 26, 2007
The second coming of Acoustic Coffee
On the heels of the demise of Goat’s Head Soup (formerly Acoustic Coffee; see Gossip item below) comes news of a new venue with a similar format called the North Star Cafe. The coffee shop/music venue is slated to open this spring, possibly as soon as March, in part of the space formerly occupied by Bottomz Up, on Congress Street, at the foot of Munjoy Hill.
The proprietor is Anna Maria Tocci, a singer-songwriter who formerly hosted a regular gig at Acoustic Coffee put on by the Maine Songwriters Association, of which she is a board member. The cafe, which will also serve beer and wine, will be located next to The Snug, a new pub run by former Acoustic Coffee owner Margaret Lyons.
January 22, 2007
Goat’s Head Sunk
Goat’s Head Soup, the performance space and eatery on Danforth Street formerly known as Acoustic Coffee, appears to be out of business.
Just before the start of “Danapalooza” on the evening of Jan. 19, musician Steven Williams announced from the stage that the Dan Knudsen–tribute show may very well be the final performance at the venue. Williams said the business needs a substantial cash investment very soon in order to continue operating. The bar was closed that night, though patrons were allowed to bring their own beer and wine.
Owner Mike O’Connor did not return a call seeking comment. O’Connor is also a guitarist in the local rock band Dead End Armory.
In addition to live music – mostly singer-songwriters, with some rock bands on the weekends – the venue hosted a weekly spoken-word poetry series and a biweekly comedy night. Poetry host Nathan Amadon said he hasn’t heard from O’Connor either, but will attempt to hold a final open-mic session at Goat’s Head on Jan. 23, in hopes someone will unlock the door by the scheduled 7 p.m. start.
Meanwhile, across the street, the would-be reincarnation of the legendary music venue known as The Tree seems as unlikely as ever. As we noted in Gossip last month, the property is for sale again, though the Cumberland couple who own it haven’t ruled out the possibility of recreating The Tree there someday.
January 18, 2007
The Pavilion and the block across the street (right) may be on the market because of the formula business limits. (photos/Chris Busby)
Formula biz limits a factor in big Old Port property sales?
Two major Old Port properties may be changing hands because of the limits on so-called “formula” businesses enacted by the City Council last November.
The Pavilion nightclub and banquet facility on Middle Street is now up for grabs, and the block of properties across the street, including the Casco Bank Block, is said to be under contract, with a sale pending in April. The properties’ proximity to a Starbucks and a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop appears to preclude the possibility of a chain or franchise store occupying either space.
Both properties are in the hands of the Portland-based firm Commercial Properties Inc. (CPI). CPI Chairman and CEO Dick McGoldrick stopped short of saying the formula ordinance was a factor in the recent availability of either property, but he’s clearly no fan of the law.
McGoldrick said he’s e-mailed city councilors “asking them to lower my taxes” because the formula limits “knocked the economic value [of CPI’s properties on the peninsula] in half.” Retail property in the Old Port had been fetching, on average, about $30 per square foot, he said, but the limits are reducing that to about $15 per square foot for new tenants.
McGoldrick believes this will ultimately reduce the value of commercial properties in the Old Port and downtown, forcing homeowners to make up the difference with higher property taxes. That prospect could lead to the success of a citizen-initiated effort to repeal the limits this summer, he speculated, or residents “will rise up in force and, perhaps, put some people on the City Council who understand how economics work.”
The condominiums above The Pavilion are not for sale, but McGoldrick said he’d “be delighted” to sell The Pavilion or lease the space.
Former Pavilion owner Jim Albert, who’s helping current owner Lisa Oldakowski find a new operator for the facility (see our Dec. 29 Gossip item, below), said he’s heard rumors the space the club leases is for sale, but nothing definite as of yet. Albert said he’s also heard McGoldrick’s concerns about the negative impact the formula law could have on the property.
Nancy Lawrence owns Portmanteau, a clothing and accessories shop in the building across the street. She said McGoldrick “did say he sold the building partly because of the ordinance, and he’s very unhappy with the ordinance.”
Lawrence said Allan Labos, owner of Akari (a hair salon, spa, shop and bistro on Fore Street), has the property her shop occupies under contract. McGoldrick would not confirm this, and Labos did not return a call seeking comment.
Lawrence also said there’s been talk of turning The Pavilion into an arts incubator of sorts, but those rumors could not be confirmed.
Interestingly, McGoldrick and Labos have opposite takes on the formula law.
McGoldrick believes the measure “has the potential of destroying what we’ve spent the last 30 years trying to build” in the Old Port, he said today.
Before the Council vote approving the limits last November, Labos told councilors “this initiative might not be the right one, but it’s a start.” He urged them to either approve or modify the law that night, adding, “to do otherwise is to lose the Old Port.”
January 8, 2007
The Soundpost sounds off
The visual art and performance space above Katahdin restaurant on High Street, formerly known as The Stillhouse, has been reborn as The Soundpost. New proprietors Kate Cox and Matt Rock held an informal opening event on New Year’s Eve, and are now hosting public shows. The first of these, titled, “Deep River of Song: Alan Lomax and African-American Folk Music,” is a presentation of recordings, photos and film from the Alan Lomax archive in New York City, happening Jan. 14.
Future events promise to feature many of the most intriguing acts and artists in Portland’s avant-garde music and performance art scene. The venue’s Web site, http://www.thesoundpost.org, is currently under construction, but in the meantime you can check out www.myspace.com/thesoundpost.
For more on Cox’s work and her thoughts about the new space, read our interview with her.
January 5, 2007
Make that a Donoghue on pumpernickel
Call it a foodie Freudian slip.
Around the same time would-be Dunkin’ Donuts landlord Joe Pompeo was tellingThe Bollard of plans to reopen his pizza shop on Stevens Avenue and name sandwiches after city councilors, a calendar item appeared on the city’s Web site announcing a workshop on the “Rolls & Responsibilities of the City Council.”
Asked what kind of roll he’d be, Councilor Kevin Donoghue responded, “I’m pumpernickel, baby!”
In fact, the Jan. 8 workshop is unlikely to be a lighthearted affair. Mayor Nick Mavodones announced his intention to discuss inter-Council relationships during his inauguration last month, and the forthcoming workshop is the first part of this effort.
Speaking privately, several councilors said there are touchy issues they plan to bring up, including some councilors’ disrespectful behavior at meetings toward fellow councilors and the public, and issues related to the Council’s legislative process.
Plus, it’s not entirely clear that Donoghue has dibs on pumpernickel. The freshman councilor may have to settle for a light rye.