Friday, December 16, 2005

No deal? No problem

published in the Portland Phoenix

Brian Hanson, who owns the Industry, an 18-plus Wharf Street nightclub that allowed people to dance and party after the 1 am bar-closing time on Fridays and Saturdays, has shuttered his operation and is spending at least $20,000 to convert the facility to a restaurant. Before he opens the doors of his eatery, which he’s naming Right Proper Charlie's, he expects to need a city permit — an "overlay license," required to run any business in the Old Port that makes more than half its money from alcohol sales.

The Old Port's councilor, Will Gorham, wants to ban all after-hours entertainment in the district. (He had originally wanted to do so city-wide but now has decided to leave alone Platinum Plus, which stays open until 3 am Monday through Thursday, to 4 am on Friday, and to 6 am on Saturday and Sunday.) Gorham is also backing a proposal from the city's attorney, Gary Wood, to reduce the quota of bars allowed overlay licenses from 27 to the 22 that are currently in use, thus blocking the opening of any new bar in the Old Port without another one first closing.

At a recent Public Safety Committee meeting, Hanson's attorney, Richard Berne, told Gorham and the committee that in exchange for cooperating with the city — that is, closing the nightclub, which police say keeps drunk and disorderly people on Wharf Street in the wee hours of weekend mornings — the city should keep open a 23rd overlay license for him.

But Berne also said that if the council doesn't cooperate, Hanson, who holds a liquor license, may open the restaurant anyway, and simply assert that it won't make more than half its money on alcohol. He defended that position by comparing the new operation to Fore Street, which has no overlay license and, Berne publicly speculated, probably makes more than half its money from alcohol sales.

According to Berne, Right Proper Charlie's will be similar to Brian Boru or Gritty McDuff's, which have active bar scenes as well as restaurant menus. Both have overlay licenses.

"You will be eliminating a nightclub and you will have then a restaurant," he said to the committee, which would appear to be good from city officials' point of view. Lieutenant Janine Roberts, head of the Tactical Enforcement Unit, which focuses on the Old Port after dark, talked at length about the dangers underage people were being exposed to because they are drawn to the Industry, which is near several bars.

Gorham, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed his concern about "minors" — many between the ages of 18 and 20 — being "exposed" to people who have been drinking.

Erica Schmitz, coordinator of Portland Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol, and Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, both said they wanted fewer bars in the Old Port and supported a city-wide ban on after-hours entertainment.

Nearby bar owners objected to Hanson's proposed deal. Doug Foos, owner of Bull Feeney's and chairman of the city's Night Life Oversight Committee, said he and his group want to keep the number of overlay licenses at 27, but are "vehemently against" giving an overlay license to another bar on Wharf Street.

Tom Manning, owner of Digger's and Liquid Blue, said he was "not opposed" to fewer overlay licenses.

Councilor Donna Carr, a committee member, didn't attend the PSC meeting, and did not return multiple phone calls seeking her comments.

Before she left for another meeting, Councilor Cheryl Leeman, the third committee member, said she supported outlawing after-hours entertainment citywide, grandfathering Platinum Plus, and giving Hanson an overlay license to run his restaurant, saying "for all practical purposes, you have one now."