Briefs from March and April 2007
By Chris Busby
April 27, 2007
A chapter ends, another begins
Casco Bay Books, the downtown used bookstore and café on Middle Street, has closed, as has its associated clothing store, Milo. Meanwhile, a new bookstore, Rabelais, has opened a couple blocks east on Middle Street.
Although Casco Bay Books was a popular gathering spot, especially for young people and the hip-at-heart, its clientele ultimately did not provide enough revenue to sustain the business. In addition to books and beverages, the shop also featured local artwork and was known to host low-key live shows by the occasional indie rock band. After over five years at the center of this scene, it will be missed.
Located between Hugo’s and the shuttered Jordan’s Meats plant, Rabelais specializes in new, rare, and out-of-print books about food, gardening and the arts. The proprietors are Don and Samantha Hoyt Lindgren.
Don Hoyt Lindgren has been a rare-book dealer for the past quarter century, according to a press release announcing the store’s debut. In the 1990s, he worked a stint as an executive with Sony Music International. Samantha Hoyt Lindgren was a magazine photo editor at People, Life, Forbes and New Yorkbefore she left that line of work to study the culinary arts – pastry-making, in particular. For more on this new enterprise, check out www.rabelaisbooks.com.
Elected mayor action delayed
Having failed to convince their colleagues to put a plan for an “elected mayor” before Portland voters, City Councilors Dave Marshall and Kevin Donoghue are taking a step back to strategize, and may introduce a new plan this summer.
The two councilors, both elected to represent districts on the peninsula last fall, floated a couple versions of their plan earlier this year. The latest would convert one of the four at-large Council seats into the position of Mayor of Portland, thus allowing voters citywide to cast ballots for candidates who’d serve in that post for three-year terms, albeit with limited powers not much greater than the largely ceremonial duties the mayor performs now.
Marshall said he plans to talk with a variety of interested citizens over the next several weeks to gauge support for different approaches to the issue. A new proposal could come before the Council on June 4.
The type of limited change he and Donoghue last suggested could be implemented by a majority vote of Portlanders this November. Any plan that would alter the balance of power between the mayor and councilors – for example, by giving the mayor veto or budget-making authority – would require the election of a special commission to study the City Charter. The two councilors have been wary of that process because it’s unpredictable – the commission could recommend any number of different electoral scenarios. But they may need to present a so-called “strong mayor” plan to get enough political support to move the matter forward.
April 18, 2007
Toothaker’s $620 cab ride
Skipping out on a $4.65 cab fare will cost former Portland School Committee member Jason Toothaker $620. Toothaker entered a plea of no contest yesterday in Cumberland County District Court, after initially pleading innocent to the misdemeanor theft of services charge stemming from a drunken incident last December.
Following reports that Toothaker fled from a cab and police after a night of heavy drinking in the Old Port, the young school board member was hounded from office by angry members of the public and a finger-wagging media. He resigned after serving two years of his three-year term on the board.
Toothaker was nearly arrested again shortly after he arrived at the courthouse. Security personnel who screened the shoulder bag he was carrying found a knife and a marijuana pipe inside. Toothaker said he’d borrowed the bag that morning from a friend who’s been staying with him, and was unaware the weapon and drug paraphernalia – which he said also belonged to the friend – were inside it.
After a brief discussion, the security guard agreed to return the knife to Toothaker after his court appearance, but the pipe was confiscated. No charges arose from this incident.
April 12, 2007
Library inks deal to buy market
Library and city officials have signed an agreement to purchase the former Portland Public Market building pending voter approval this summer. A delay in getting City Council approval to send the new library plan to voters had put the deal in question earlier this year, but the city has since signed an agreement with Canal Congress LLC – a company affiliated with the Boston-based investment firm Guggenheim Real Estate LLC, which owns the market – to acquire the property for $2.75 million should voters give the OK this June.
“Hopefully, they’ll do it,” said Greg Boulos, the broker involved in the deal. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the city.” Boulos had previously listed the property for $4 million as a potential site for office or retail use.
District 3 school board race is no contest
The race to fill the seat on the Portland School Committee vacated by Jason Toothaker has essentially been won. Barring a last-minute write-in campaign or drunken arrest, Peter Eglinton will assume the post following the June 12 special election in District 3 (Stroudwater, Libbytown, Rosemont and neighborhoods near the University of Southern Maine).
Three candidates took out nomination papers to get on the ballot, but only Eglinton returned them by the April 9 deadline. Would-be contender Julia Finn could not be reached for comment, but Eglinton said her supporters have told him an illness in the family dissuaded her from campaigning this summer.
Vincent Grassi also took out papers, but said work and family commitments made a campaign unwise at this time. He said “there’ll be a good chance” he’ll run for the seat when it’s up again in this November.
Eglinton, 44, is a married father of two young children in the Portland public school system. He works as an environmental consultant, and has previously been a policy analyst with the Office of Management and Budget within the White House. According to his Web site, www.peterforportlandschools.org, his hobbies include playing the guitar, sailing and magic.
Toothaker was hounded from office earlier this year by angry members of the public and the media after being arrested for allegedly skipping out on a cab fare. He has pleaded innocent to the charge, and the matter is still pending in the court system.
Toothaker did not formally endorse a candidate for his seat, but said he’s pleased Eglinton will fill it. He called him “a good decision maker who uses fact-based decision making.” Plus, “he didn’t tear into me after the cab thing.”
April 1, 2007
Anthem building for sale for $11 million
The downtown building occupied by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield for decades is now on the market. The asking price: $11 million, parking garage included.
As The Bollard reported last summer, the insurance giant is relocating workers from its Free Street building to a larger facility on Gannett Drive, in South Portland.
Company spokesperson Mark Ishkanian cited greater workforce efficiency as the reason for the move, and said Anthem has occupied the Portland property since 1972.
In his March 28 listing of the property, broker Tony McDonald of CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Company notes that it offers “parking ratios which rival the suburbs… virtually unheard of in downtown locations.” The nearly 90,000-square-foot office building comes with about 370 parking spaces, including the 300-car garage across Spring Street, and an in-house cafeteria.
March 29, 2007
Developer wants Portland Pie to go
Scarborough developer Kerry Anderson has submitted plans to put a seven-story retail, office and condo building on the corner of Fore and Center streets, at the edge of Portland’s Old Port. The structure would rise from a parcel currently used for parking next to the building occupied by the cocktail bar úna and the pizza parlor Portland Pie.
Though úna would be unaffected by the development, Portland Pie owner Stephen Freese said his business is being ousted.
Tim Bryant, of the firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios, is representing Portland Pie in the dispute. He said Anderson is attempting to terminate the pizza parlor’s lease on grounds its ovens are causing soot and smoke problems in the building. Bryant and his client dispute that.
“Our experts say it’s not true, and common sense says it’s not true,” said Bryant. “It’s a dry heat” that cooks the pizzas, he said.
Bryant said Portland Pie has offered to replace the ventilation system, but that offer was rebuffed by Anderson. “I’m not sure what else my guys can do,” said Bryant.
Anderson did not return a call seeking comment.
Plans call for retail space on the building’s ground floor, two floors of office space on the second and third stories, and four floors containing 16 condominium units on top. The price of the condos is yet to be determined.
Parking would be provided in the lot behind the Irish pub Brian Ború. Anderson acquired the block of largely vacant land around Ború last year, and has attempted to purchase the pub, but its owners have thus far refused his offers. The parties have clashed over smaller details, like the placement of a fence along the pub’s patio [see “Big plans brewing around Brian Ború,” August 23, 2006].
Ború co-owner Laurence Kelly has said Anderson is interested in developing a large “complex” of buildings on the site. The nearly 82-foot-high structure planned for the corner of the lot may be just the beginning.
Real estate broker Tom Moulton partnered with Anderson to build and market retail and condo units on the corner of Congress and Oak street a couple years ago. Moulton said he’ll be involved in marketing the Fore/Center Street building’s commercial and residential spaces, but does not know when the project will be completed or why Portland Pie is being told to vacate their space in the building Anderson owns next door.
Moulton and Anderson are also working together on the Oak Street Live/Work Lofts, another new project Anderson is building downtown. Located in a parking lot behind the Point Five Lounge (the bar adjoining the Congress Street restaurant Five Fifty-Five), this project has retail on its ground floor and three stories above containing 16 residential “live/work” units.
Parking will be provided by an underground lot, Moulton said. He said the current surface parking lot on the site is an “underutilized” overflow lot for another downtown office building.
Portland Pie opened on India Street in 1997, and moved into the Fore Street location in late 2004. It also has pizza shops in South Portland and Westbrook.
The eatery’s lease at the Fore Street space runs, with extensions, for 13 more years, said Bryant. He speculated that Anderson may be trying to evict Portland Pie in order to replace it with a business that will pay higher rent or better complement the offices and condos being planned next door.
March 26, 2007
Portland Poet Laureate program launched
While the Portland City Council considers creating a political leader for the city in the form of a directly elected mayor, some members of Portland’s literary community are organizing to create a poetic leader for Portland – a Portland Poet Laureate.
Poet Dennis Camire is leading the charge of this literary light brigade. He’s assembled a board (which includes this reporter) to review nominations for the one-year post and choose the city’s first poet laureate in May. Other board members include poet Marita O’Neill, an English teacher in Scarborough; Chris Bowe, of Longfellow Books; Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, co-director of The Telling Room; Duff Plunkett, of the Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival; Michael Macklin, reviews editor of The Café Review; and Moon Pie Press publisher Alice Persons.
Nominees must reside in Greater Portland and cannot nominate themselves.
The poet laureate will be chosen based on the quality of their verse and their involvement in the local poetry scene. The chosen bard will be expected to give at least four public readings during their term and develop a project that helps further local interest in the art form.
“The Portland poetry scene has been vibrant for a number of years, and considering the growing esteem of poetry for the public, it just seems natural that we would select an area poet to be an ambassador, a spokesperson for poetry,” said Camire.
Camire is setting up a non-profit called Maine Poetry Central to support the initiative. He hopes to raise private or public funds to give the poet laureate a modest stipend – in addition to the ceremonial pen.
To nominate a poet, provide a brief description of the poet’s work, their contact information, and the reasons why this writer should be selected, and send your nomination to Camire at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for nominations is May 1.
March 16, 2007
Digger’s/Liquid Blue in Council crosshairs
City Councilor Ed Suslovic intends to challenge bar owner Tom Manning’s request to renew his liquor licenses for Digger’s Pub and Liquid Blue, the combination bar/dance club he operates on Fore Street. The matter will come before the Council in late May.
Last December, Suslovic was the only councilor to vote against Manning’s liquor license application for Cake, a supposedly “upscale” restaurant and nightclub on Wharf Street [see “Cake walk,” Dec. 19, 2006]. At the time, Manning was still facing charges stemming from a fight he was involved in outside his Wharf Street establishments last summer.
Last month, Manning pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. A second charge for refusing to submit to arrest was dropped by prosecutors despite allegations by police that Manning threw punches at officers who intervened to break up the fight [see “Drunk Old Port bar owner attacks cops,” July 21, 2006, in Gossip].
Several weeks ago, Liquid Blue was among 20 establishments cited by police during an undercover sting operation for serving alcohol to a minor. “Now that he has pled guilty to disorderly [conduct], we have that as well,” Suslovic said, noting the citation.
That may not be the half of it. Police are expected to submit a report detailing calls for police services at both establishments prior to the Council vote. If this month is any indication, that could be a long list. Police records show two calls for fights at Digger’s on March 4 alone.
Manning also owns The Iguana, a rowdy bar on Wharf Street where police responded to a pair of incidents on Feb. 24 and 25. Earlier this month, Portland police spokesman Lt. Anthony Ward said the first call involved “a bouncer assaulted by a drunk male.” No arrest was made, and no further investigation was done because “the bouncer did not wish to pursue charges,” Ward said. The incident on the 25th involved “a group of employees restraining a male trying to start a fight.” Ward said no arrest or further police work was done in this case, either, because it’s believed “the bouncer took care of the issue.”
Lt. Ward did not respond to several requests for information regarding the fights at Digger’s earlier this month and an assault call at Cake around 10 p.m. on March 3, the night the restaurant and dance club held its “grand opening celebration.”
March 6, 2007
Greens stick to their guns for elected mayor
At its March 5 meeting, the Portland City Council voted not to form a task force that would have studied a way for voters to directly elect the Mayor of Portland.
Councilors Kevin Donoghue and Dave Marshall, who proposed the task force, were the only ones to vote for it. [See “Council Greens push for elected mayor.”]
However, the proposal’s defeat was not a blanket rejection of the elected-mayor concept. Far from it.
Mayor Nick Mavodones and Councilors Jim Cloutier, Jill Duson, Jim Cohen, Ed Suslovic and Donna Carr nixed the idea, but several of them said they’d support forming a different type of study group: a City Charter Commission that could lead to a directly elected mayor with even more power than is contemplated – or desired – by Donoghue and Marshall.
The proposal the pair brought forward last night would have expanded the number of city electoral districts from five to eight, each with its own City Councilor, while reducing the number of citywide “at-large” Council seats from four to one – that one being the mayor’s seat. Voters would elect the mayor to a three-year term, and the mayor could run for reelection under this plan, but the post would otherwise have no more authority than the minor powers it carries now.
Councilors opposed to this proposal expressed satisfaction with the current arrangement, by which councilors appoint one among them to the post each year. But their major concern was about public input.
Though voters would ultimately approve or reject such a change at the polls, the proposal under consideration last night called for a task force of three councilors and some city staffers to work out the specifics before the public vote.
At-large Councilors Cloutier, Duson and Suslovic said they prefer the charter commission approach, by which citizens run to serve on a special commission charged with studying the structure of city government and formally recommending changes. Voters must first approve the formation of this commission, then vote on its members, and, lastly, vote again on any changes the commission suggests – a process that provides a lot of opportunity for public debate.
But as Marshall noted today, with this approach, “everything’s on the table.” There’s no guarantee any one proposal to reshape city government would be endorsed by the commission. For example, once formed, it could recommend a so-called “strong mayor” system in which the mayor has veto power over city councilors or other additional authority.
When the “strong mayor” idea was brought forward by a contingent on the Council 10 years ago, voters nixed it by deciding not to form a charter commission to begin the process.
Marshall said he intends to bring an amended version of this idea back before the Council later this month. Under the revised proposal, the current electoral districts remain the same, but one of the four at-large seats on the Council is eliminated and replaced with the seat for an elected mayor, whose powers would remain quite limited.
No task force would be formed under this plan, and councilors could send the idea to citizens this November for an up-or-down vote – no commission required.
Based on the comments at last night’s meeting, it looks doubtful the Council will send this amended proposal directly to voters. If it fails, Marshall said he will attempt to organize a signature-gathering campaign to put the new proposal on the November ballot anyway.