The Bollard’s View

Group emerges to oppose library move opponents

With a week to go until voters decide whether to fund moving the Portland Public Library, opponents are facing organized opposition that hopes to sway public opinion against those advocating against the move. 

Called Portlander Opposed to Opponents of Public Spaces (POOPS), the new group is made up of yours truly. Like Portlanders for Educational and Economic Priorities (PEEP’S), POOPS does not intend to raise or spend a penny to further its cause; it’s basically one guy with an ax to grind (me); and its efforts are limited to writing snarky editorials and duping sympathetic editors (yours truly, again) into giving it coverage. 


POOPS exists solely to give PEEP’S (if you’ll pardon the pun) shit. PEEP’S, as we pointed out in a recent Gossip item [“PEEP hole,” May 29], is lobbyist and media gun-for-hire Jed Rathband, and maybe a buddy or two of his. Though PEEP’S is little more than a figment of Rathband’s imagination, the Portland Forecastergave it prominent coverage in a May 23 article headlined: “Group emerges to oppose library move.” 

There’s nothing unusual about a PR flack promoting a campaign and getting coverage for it, but it is unusual when the campaign almost wholly consists of the flack himself. 

And from POOPS’ perspective, it’s more than a little crappy that Rathband is dissing the public library’s renovation plans while taking cash to promote a private developer’s plan to put a hotel on the public Maine State Pier. TheForecaster rather conveniently neglected to mention Rathband’s work for The Olympia Companies.

POOPS favors the enhancement of public spaces and institutions for the benefit of the public, rather than for the enrichment of private developers and the exclusive enjoyment of tourists. If locals can’t live in condos or apartments on the Maine State Pier, why should visitors who can afford god-knows-how-much per night for a stay at Olympia’s waterfront hotel be permitted to sleep there?

(To be fair, Olympia contends its hotel will not technically be “on the pier,” because they intend to fill in the harbor beneath the part of the pier the hotel would sit on, so it’ll really be on “land.” To which reasonable people can only reply: Why not drain the Atlantic Ocean instead and be rid of those pesky waterfront zoning restrictions altogether?) 

Rathband’s connection to The Olympia Companies is more than an inconvenient fact. It highlights a disturbing trend undermining all levels of government: the belief that the public (you and me and the people we elect to represent us) can’t manage public institutions and obligations, and so must be saved from our incompetence by for-profit companies. 

Our civilian military can’t do its job in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we have to hire thousands of private contractors and literal guns-for-hire to maintain security. Our public schools and jails are failing to educate and rehabilitate, so it’s time to support charter schools and privatize prisons. Our public pier needs repair, so it’s time to lease it for the rest of the century to a hotel developer who’ll foot the bill. 

Rathband tells us it’s the height of folly to commit an additional $1 million to our public center of knowledge and learning this year. Then he turns around and, with a straight face, urges taxpayers to give up $13 million in property tax revenue over the next 30 years so Olympia can build a hotel on public property right across from its other hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn, on Commercial Street). 

I say warm up the tar and start pluckin’ the chickens – it’s time to put PEEP’S on parade!

(Again, in fairness, Olympia has suggested a second financial option for their pier plans, one that involves no tax break but suggests the city let Olympia manage all our passenger and cargo operations on the waterfront – from the public International Marine Terminal to the public Ocean Gateway cruise ship terminal now under construction. That option apparently blew off the table when city officials collectively released gales of laughter. Olympia’s rival for the pier’s redevelopment, Ocean Properties, has shown similar disregard for public marine operations. OP proposes to build a “fish co-op” on the pier that’s little different than the publicly owned Portland Fish Exchange, a vital institution in danger of closing due to competition from auction houses in Massachusetts. If OP builds its private fish co-op, kiss the Exchange goodbye.)

The library’s plans for the former Portland Public Market building are far more practical than Olympia’s plans for the public pier. For one thing, the library’s plans have parking. I digress….

POOPS supports the library’s relocation plans and urges voters to do the same next Tuesday, June 12, when the question of borrowing an additional $1 million to help pay for the project will be on the special city ballot. 

The new library’s layout makes sense to us – er, me. It will make the library experience more pleasant and constructive for teens, toddlers, adult readers and researchers alike. (To see that layout, visit Plus, because the market is right next door, the transition during renovations will be smoother (and much cheaper), with less disruption of services than during reconstruction of the current central library. 

The financial risk for the project rests largely with library officials, who must raise additional funds from private sources to close the gap between the cost of the old renovation plan and the pricier renovation of the market building. 

As we reported a year and a half ago, the old plans to renovate the nearly 30-year-old Monument Square library building have been floundering for the better part of this decade. Potential donors just aren’t excited about the prospect of putting lipstick on this tired pig. 

That’s not the case with the market plan. Library officials say the prospect of moving the library into the market has given their fundraising efforts a huge boost. People without deep pockets (like POOPS) can make a small contribution simply by voting “yes” on the bond question this week. Over time, the additional bonding will cost each of us less than we typically fork over in overdue book fees. A “no” vote nixes this opportunity forever and puts the library back in the doldrums it’s struggled to shake for the past five years. 

Nevermind PEEP’S. Listen to POOPS. At least we admit when we’re full of shit. 

[Speaking of admissions, a few folks who read our Gossip item on PEEP’S felt I should have disclosed that I worked as a reporter for the Portland Forecaster three years ago before I quit to start The Bollard. There ya go…]

— Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.

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