Written and compiled by Chris Busby, except as noted
June 5, 2008
Bar dispersal law may be repealed
The city ordinance passed last year that limits the places in downtown Portland and the Old Port where establishments can serve alcohol and offer live entertainment may be repealed this summer. City Councilor Dave Marshall, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said his committee will discuss an order he's submitted to nix the zoning requirement at its meeting next Tuesday, June 10.
The law prohibits new bars and restaurants from offering music if they are located within 100 feet of another drinking establishment that also offers live entertainment. Commercial spaces where booze and music were previously offered are grandfathered under the law – which is why, for example, a new bar and dance club set to open in the former location of Digger's/Liquid Blue, on Fore Street, was granted liquor and entertainment licenses earlier this year. [See "'Footloose' in Portland," April 5, 2007, in News.]
The law has made a host of locations in the Old Port and Arts District off-limits to new bars and restaurants that could potentially host the performing arts. Marshall said at least one business owner has been denied the opportunity to host music due to the law, though he could not recall which establishment was affected.
The dispersal ordinance, as it's called, "has only caused confusion," said Marshall. "It hasn't done anything to improve public safety…. This ordinance seeks to prohibit entertainment in the Old Port and the Arts District when we should really be focusing on good management practices of bars."
Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District – the quasi-municipal organization that promotes and helps maintain downtown Portland – was shocked to hear of Marshall's move to kill the law. "I was stunned that he would do that without even having the courtesy to contact me," she said. "He knows that it effects PDD directly and he's on the PDD board. It would have been nice if he'd given us the courtesy of a heads-up."
Marshall said he followed the same procedure councilors always do when they want to introduce an ordinance. A majority of his three-member committee is expected to vote to forward the repeal order to the full council (fellow committee member Kevin Donoghue opposed the dispersal requirement last year and favors repeal). Marshall is fairly confident a majority of the full council will vote to strike the law from the books.
Beitzer said the dispersal ordinance has helped keep Congress Street from experiencing the problems that have plagued Wharf Street – rowdy crowds from different bars and nightclubs gathering late at night and causing fights and other disturbances.
"PDD believes the dispersal rule has been working," she said. "This comes under the heading: don't try to fix something that's not broken."
[Full disclosure: The Bollard has previously editorialized against the dispersal ordinance; see "The Flogging Song," April 19, 2007, in Views.]