“Footloose II: Extra Bacon”


A view of Wharf Street last summer. (photo/Matthew Robbins)
A view of Wharf Street last summer. (photo/Matthew Robbins)

“Footloose II: Extra Bacon” 
Cops seek to nearly triple liquor license fee hike

By Chris Busby

A week after the Portland City Council voted to raise liquor license fees citywide to pay for additional police coverage in the Old Port, the police department has asked councilors to nearly triple that fee hike to pay for other liquor-related enforcement actions throughout Portland.

In addition to $61,000 for beefier coverage in the Old Port on summer weekend nights, the cops want $41,000 to keep an eye on after-hours entertainment and $56,000 for general liquor enforcement activities – like the sting operations the department has recently carried out in an attempt to fool store clerks and bartenders into selling alcohol to undercover agents just under 21.

In total, liquor license holders would be on the hook for an additional $158,000 every year – nearly three times the $61,000 increase councilors approved April 4 for extra Old Port cops. [See “‘Footloose’ in Portland,” April 5.]

Because the Council eliminated the “seat tax” previously applied to some Old Port bar owners to pay extra cops in their part of town, bar owners operating in the thick of the action save thousands of dollars under this new fee scheme. Meanwhile, bar and restaurant owners far from the Old Port would pay upwards of $1,000 or more every year if this new proposal passes as part of the city’s budget this spring.

For example, Tom Manning, owner of Digger’s/Liquid Blue – a rowdy college bar and dance club on Fore Street that routinely requires police intervention– saves $5,165 in annual fees for this business under the new scheme (he’d pay $3,625, instead of $8,790). Howie Chadbourne, owner of Howie’s Pub and Grill – a neighborhood gathering spot in East Deering – would see his annual fee jump $1,150 (from $2,040 to $3,190). 

Fees applied to the Old Port Tavern, another hot spot of late-night violence, decrease $7,365; Diamond’s Edge Restaurant, on Great Diamond Island, forks over an extra $935. The Wharf Street dance club Threeways sees a $1,635 decrease; between their Allen Avenue and outer Congress Street locations, owners of the Italian eatery Espo’s pay $1,480 more every year.

The new fee increases vary according to the type of liquor license one holds, but are applied to any business that sells alcohol for on- or off-premises consumption. Thus, the Holiday Inn West, on Riverside Street, would pay an extra $1,025; Yankee Lanes, also on Riverside, pays $875 more; and the city charges itself $870 more every year to sell beer and wine at the publicly owned Merrill Auditorium under this proposal. 

“A thousand dollars is a lot of money,” said Chadbourne, proprietor of Howie’s. “It’s gonna make or break some people.”

Liquor license fees for corner stores and supermarkets are much lower than those applied to bars and restaurants – off-premise license holders would pay $155 more every year. About 190 bars and restaurants and nearly 100 convenience stores and supermarkets are affected.

The Finance Committee of the City Council received the cops’ budget request on April 10. The $158,000 fee hike is in addition to the over $500,000 spending increase City Manager Joe Gray is proposing for police services this year. The total budget for the police department is over $12 million.

Finance Committee members aren’t yet convinced the entire fee hike is justified. For example, the $41,000 for after-hours enforcement is based on the assumption that an establishment other than the strip club Platinum Plus will offer such entertainment after 1 a.m. Only three other businesses hold after-hours licenses – Asylum, a sports bar and music venue on Center Street; Styxx, a dance club on Spring Street; and Spot Shot Billiards/The Station, a pool hall and music venue on St. John Street. 

The Council had placed a moratorium on the issuance of after-hours entertainment licenses last year, but lifted that ban on April 4. However, in doing so, it restricted attendance at those events held in establishments with liquor licenses to patrons 21 and over – a move that makes offering after-hours entertainment a much less profitable prospect.

The three-member Finance Committee will consider the fee-hike request in the coming weeks, and the full Council will vote on it next month as part of the overall city budget. Portland Police Chief Tim Burton could not be reached for comment on the request.

In a related development, the zoning rules restricting the location of establishments offering both alcohol and entertainment are evolving. 

The Bollard reported last week that a bar or restaurant offering live entertainment located within 100 feet of a similar establishment could become off-limits to that mix of uses if it closed, changed ownership or relocated. City officials are now saying that would be the case only if the space the business occupied was not home to a new business offering both booze and music for over a year.

Details are still vague, but it’s also possible that venues hosting poetry readings and theatrical performances will be exempted from the law. City attorney Gary Wood did not return a call seeking comment.

And yet another aspect of the new “downtown entertainment overlay zone” is also in question. As The Bollard pointed out in a recent editorial, the 100-foot dispersal requirement imposed in the Old Port and Arts District was originally to be measured from the main entrance of one business to another along sidewalks and crosswalks. This would allow businesses offering alcohol and entertainment to operate directly across the street from one another in many cases, undermining the law’s intent to keep crowds dispersed. 

At the suggestion of Councilor Jim Cohen, the Council amended the 100-foot rule to apply along “sight lines” from entrance to entrance, ostensibly closing this big loophole. However, the amended language in the city code does not reflect this change; it states that the distance will be measured “along sidewalks.”

And finally, The Bollard was in error last week when it reported that Gritty McDuff’s is no longer offering live music. The Old Port pub’s Web site lists musical acts scheduled to perform on Saturday and Sunday nights this month and next. Gritty’s does not have an entertainment license, so these shows would be illegal. Owner Richard Pfeffer did not return a call seeking comment.

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