Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Peace + Justice Center shutting down

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The Peace and Justice Center of Southern Maine will close in December, after 10 years as an incubator for fledgling socially-minded nonprofits. The closing displaces several groups, who are looking for new space to replace the small offices and the shared meeting room on the fourth floor of the Cinamon Building at 1 Pleasant Street.

“The [center] offered a low-cost way for small nonprofits to have their own office space,” says Betsy Smith of Equality Maine, one of the founding groups in the center.

Last summer, Equality Maine “graduated,” moving down two floors in search of more room than it had available in the center (see “Equality Maine Moves Uptown, Downstairs,” by Tony Giampetruzzi, July 21, 2006).

That left a sizeable hole in the center’s tenant revenue, which has yet to be fully replaced, though founding member and coordinator Sally Breen says another reason for the closing the center is mission related — member organizations have been so busy with their own projects that they never actually got around to fulfilling the institution’s primary goal of combining forces to host larger-scale peace- and justice-related events.

Other tenants of the four-story complex also face uncertainty: the 12,500-square-foot building, valued by the city at just shy of $700,000, is for sale, with an asking price of $1.3 million, according to its listing with Fishman Realty Group. Ground-floor Indian restaurant Hi Bombay, and second-floor tenants Equality Maine and the League of Young Voters, have no plans to leave, and will wait to see what happens following a sale. One small business on the third floor moved recently; another did not return calls.

The Peace and Justice Center is currently home to Physicians for Social Responsibility (opposing weapons of mass destruction, and promoting environmental stewardship), the Maine Animal Coalition (which works to prevent cruelty to animals, including in agriculture), Maine Interfaith Power and Light (selling renewably-generated electricity to Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro customers), the Campaign to Defend America (an anti-Iraq-war group), the Environmental Health Strategy Center (fighting toxic chemicals in the environment), and Portland Organizing to Win Economic Rights (POWER, working to abolish poverty). It also provides space for meetings of groups like Maine Veterans for Peace and World Can’t Wait (an anti-Bush group).

POWER has told Breen it will move out shortly, but Breen did not know to where, and POWER organizers didn’t return calls. Most other groups in the center are looking for new spaces at the moment, but haven’t found anything yet.

One solution may be finding another building in which to share space again, which is what Physicians for Social Responsibility executive director Melissa Boyd is hoping to do.

Some local nonprofits have already banded together as part of the Community Building Collective, which has proposed using the former Adams School building as a shared community building with residences, gathering rooms, and — you guessed it — shared office space for nonprofits.

Former Peace and Justice Center tenant Peace Action Maine has already arranged to share space with the Foglight Collective (formerly People’s Free Space), in the site of the former Tea Time Antiques and Collectibles store at 644 Congress Street.

The groups have named their office the Meg Perry Center for Peace, Justice, and Community, in honor of the People’s Free Space organizer and Frida Bus leader Meg Perry, who died December 10, 2005, in a bus crash while on a Katrina-relief trip to New Orleans (see “N.O. Peace for Perry’s Mourners,” by Jeff Inglis, December 16, 2005).

The Meg Perry Center offers a library and free Internet access, workshops on various practical skills, showing videos, art shows, and musical performances. When the relevant city permits come through, “we also will start selling more things,” starting with books and coffee, to help pay the rent, says Foglight organizer Johan Fertig.

On Friday, for the First Friday Art Walk, the Meg Perry Center will open to display works from local artists and musicians addressing the themes of peace and community, from 5 to 10 pm.

On the Web
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