Briefs from July and August 2007
By Chris Busby, except as noted
August 23, 2007
An era ends: Espans to close
One of Portland’s oldest and most beloved eateries, Espans Quick Lunch, will close at the end of this month after nearly 60 years in East Deering.
Opened in 1948 on Veranda Street, the breakfast and lunch spot is owned by Nick and Lefty Poulos, who are retiring after a lifetime behind the counter and the grill. The couple will continue to own the property, and may lease it later this year, Lefty Poulos said.
Back in ’48, Nick’s father, the original owner, ordered a sign for his business, E. Poulos & Son. When the sign arrived, it said “Espans” instead, and the name just stuck.
Richard “Scottie” Scott, a WWII and Korean War veteran, said he’s been coming to Espans for close to 50 years. Asked what made Espans so special, Scott said, “the atmosphere, and everybody’s so friendly, everybody knows everybody by their first name.
“You don’t find many places like this anymore,” he added.
“It’s absolutely sad,” said Lefty Poulos. “The customers are friends, not just customers.”
Over the years, people have met at Espans and married, business deals have been sealed, she said. The place was so popular with telephone, electrical and postal service workers that it sometimes seemed like a second office or break room. Some of the waitresses have been there for decades.
“It’s a sad day when you lose one of your neighbors,” said City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who lives nearby. “They’ve been very much a part of the neighborhood for a long time.”
At Espans, Leeman said, “You go in happy, you leave happy, and while you’re there you get the lowdown on everything going on around town.” Leeman will be presenting the crew at Espans with a special proclamation from the city in honor of their role in the community.
August 22, 2007
Impeachment resolution fails
A Portland City Council resolution petitioning Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney failed to win majority support at Monday night’s Council meeting.
Councilors Jill Duson and Dave Marshall sponsored the symbolic resolve [see “Duson plays national politics with city council,” July 11, Briefs, below]. It failed to receive five votes of support or opposition at a Council meeting earlier this month. Councilors Jim Cohen and Donna Carr were absent from that meeting, and City Councilor Cheryl Leeman left Council Chambers in disgust before the vote on Aug. 6.
At last Monday night’s meeting, with all nine councilors present, it failed 5-4, with Duson, Marshall, Councilor Jim Cloutier and Mayor Nick Mavodones on the losing side of the tally.
The Council’s discussion of the resolution was bogged down by extensive wrangling over its own process, as individual members questioned the appropriateness of various amendments and procedural moves. Confused by the parliamentary twists and turns, Mavodones (whose job, as mayor, it is to keep these things on track) mis-voted at first, unintentionally siding with opponents of the resolution. His colleagues subsequently granted a motion to vote again, so he could add his vote to the losing side.
The substance of the resolution itself was hardly mentioned.
Good times curtailed at Goodfellas
After an all-too-brief hiatus, the Portland City Council’s back-assward approach to bar management resurfaced at Monday night’s meeting. The establishment getting the squeeze this time: Goodfellas Bar & Nightclub, a new business expected to open soon in the old garage on Warren Avenue last occupied by Austin’s Boot & Buckle Saloon.
Although the area around the bar is largely industrial, several houses are located across the heavily trafficked street. Complaints from those neighbors about noise and rowdy patrons gave the owners of Austin’s headaches a year-and-a-half ago. [See our Gossip items from Dec. 5 and 19, 2005.] Now new proprietor Andrew Cole is paying the price before he serves his first beer there.
Following meetings with neighbors and city officials, Cole agreed to take steps to address potential noise and crowd problems. Among them – no live bands after 9 p.m., just DJs whose music must go through a house sound system specially designed to limited volume. In a letter to city attorney Gary Wood, Cole wrote that there will be a “no tolerance policy for DJs that don’t follow the volume limits” – likely a first for any Portland club, where volume issue with DJs are normally solved by simply turning the fader down.
The club’s fenced-in patio will be open for patrons, but they will not be allowed to eat or drink there. This is supposedly a noise-control measure, to cut down on the number of people talking outside, though it’s unclear why two activities that generally require you to close your mouth (eating) or stop talking (drinking) are banned. You can smoke on the patio, but since you can’t take your drink with you, patrons will be encouraged to either smoke in front of Goodfellas (thus creating more noise for the neighbors) or to leave their drink inside (not the safest move, especially for young women in dance clubs).
Cole’s liquor license request, with these amendments attached, passed unanimously.
August 7, 2007
New space – and name – for People’s Free Space
The People’s Free Space has a new name, the Foglight Collective, and new digs: a ground floor office on Congress Street in downtown Portland.
The non-profit community organization had been looking for a new home since the building it occupies on Cumberland Avenue was sold late last year. It will share the new space with another non-profit, Peace Action Maine, which is also relocating.
Foglight organizer Jonah Fertig said the group will hold a few events this month and celebrate its new home with a grand opening in early September.
July 16, 2007
Skate park rolling at last
After much delay and frustration, the Portland City Council decided tonight to move forward with plans to build a skate park at Dougherty Field, in Libbytown. The decision frees park proponents to begin raising the private money needed to build the facility. The city previously pledged $75,000 in public money for the project.
Though city parks department staff and skateboarders identified Dougherty Field as the best location for a new park a year ago, some councilors wanted to consider an alternate site by Back Cove.
The council’s Health and Recreation Committee (formerly the Health and Human Services Committee), voted 2-1 in favor of the Back Cove site last month. Committee chairwoman Donna Carr and Councilor Ed Suslovic supported the alternative location; Councilor Jim Cohen did not.
In remarks tonight, Cohen said building a skate park by Back Cove would cost much more than doing so at Dougherty Field. He also noted that the Back Cove location would not allow the park to expand in the future, and would replace existing uses – in this case, soccer fields. The Dougherty Field park location is currently occupied by deteriorated, unused tennis courts.
Neighbors concerned about the skate park’s impact on traffic and other quality-of-life issues will have opportunities to weigh in during the so-called “master planning” process for the entire Dougherty Field complex. Given those opportunities – and, one suspects, knowing they lacked the votes to stop the skate park from being sited at Dougherty Field – Suslovic and Carr joined the unanimous vote to approve the location.
Councilor Jill Duson was absent from tonight’s meeting due to travel plans.
July 11, 2007
CDC picks Ocean Properties
The fate of the Maine State Pier is now Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones’ problem.
At least, that’s the sardonic sentiment expressed by City Councilor Jim Cloutier at the end of last night’s Community Development Committee meeting. The CDC voted 2-1 in favor of recommending Portsmouth-based Ocean Properties’ pier redevelopment proposal to the full council for consideration. The competing proposal was submitted by the smaller, Portland-based firm The Olympia Companies.
Cloutier, who chairs the CDC, called the decision one of the most stressful and trying he has faced in his 10 years on the council. “I questioned whether to make a recommendation at all,” he said, but added, “I thought it would not be intellectually honest to pretend I don’t have a preference.”
In a lengthy document he prepared for the meeting, Cloutier praised Ocean Properties’ proposed marine uses and financial capacity, as well as its site plan – though he did say the company has some homework to do on Portland architecture. “Frankly, I think the Ocean Properties team will need to immerse themselves in the local lore,” he remarked.
Committee member Jill Duson and Cloutier both said Olympia’s plan meets the minimum requirements the city is seeking for the pier’s redevelopment, and that their team would also do a fine job. But Duson said Ocean Properties has the best proposal for maximizing open space and marine-dependent uses; plus, they’d provide more local jobs.
“This is an economic development project,” she said.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue, the third member of the CDC, said comparatively little before voting against the recommendation. He offered an amendment that would have provided for a public referendum vote on the pier’s redevelopment, but his motion died for lack of a second.
This is not to say the outspoken councilor lacks an opinion on the matter. “I’ll save my speech for the full council,” Donoghue said.
The council is expected to hold several workshop sessions on the public pier’s redevelopment this summer, potentially followed in late August by a vote on whether to begin negotiations with a private developer. [See “Threats and confusion plague State Pier process,” July 11, in News.]
— Patrick Banks
Duson plays national politics with city council
Portland City Councilor Jill Duson is seeking support from her council colleagues for a resolution calling on Congress to start impeachment proceedings against President Bush.
Her colleagues’ reaction has been mixed, with some in support of the resolution, others opposed to the council spending time on federal political issues, and one inferring that Duson is using the city council’s time to promote her own higher political aspirations.
Duson, a Democrat, has declared interest in running for Rep. Tom Allen’s House seat next year. She did not return a call seeking comment.
In a June 28 e-mail, Duson wrote to seven of her eight fellow councilors to gauge their support for such a resolution, which, if passed, would be forwarded to Maine’s congressional delegation. She attached the template of a resolution crafted by After Downing Street, a broad coalition of activist groups; and the impeachment inquiry resolution passed by the Maine Democratic Party at its convention last year.
Though party politics inevitably influence the Portland City Council, especially around election time, it is an officially non-partisan governing body – councilors generally do not identify themselves as members of a particular party during their campaigns or council duties.
Duson’s e-mail is notable for the political partisanship it displays. The lone councilor left off her e-mail list is Cheryl Leeman, the sole registered Republican on the council, who works for Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Leeman’s reaction to news of the e-mail was the most critical.
“I would hope, as all these various candidates ramp up to whatever seat they’re running for, that if they’re city councilors, this doesn’t become the venue for promoting their political views for purposes other than serving the best interests of the city,” she said.
Councilor Jim Cohen, a registered Democrat, said he responded by encouraging his colleagues to express their views on impeachment in forums other than Council Chambers. “There are other issues we need to be spending time on,” he said in an interview. “This forum is not the place for this debate.”
“This dialogue is really better at the state level or the federal level,” said Councilor Dave Marshall, a member of the Green Independent Party. “But if an order comes up, I’ll sponsor it.”
Kevin Donoghue, the other registered Green on the council, said he would prefer to send such a resolution to city voters in a special referendum. “My constituents elected me to represent them in the running of the city,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would want me to appropriate their voice on federal issues.”
Besides, Donoghue added, “most citizens should be smart enough to know we’re run by a criminal racket.”