The Last Last Thursday? 

Volunteers Blast Hales' Proposed Crackdown on Famed Street Fair

MAQUETTE REEVERTS was either nervous or close to tears.

"I moved here because of Last Thursday," she told an Alberta Arts District studio packed with reporters and community members on Monday, June 24. "Please understand that we really tried."

Reeverts, an event coordinator with Friends of Last Thursday (FoLT), called the meeting to announce a dramatic culmination of years of push and pull over Portland's famed summer street festival: Her group was washing its hands of the event. Mayor Charlie Hales' demands had become too much, Reeverts and other organizers said.

They insinuated the mayor had threatened to use "pressurized water hoses" to disperse celebrants, and went so far as to post a picture of civil rights protestors being fire-hosed in 1963 Birmingham on the FoLT Facebook page.

It was melodramatic, sure, but the tactic worked. The day after the press conference, Hales announced Last Thursday would proceed without the proposed changes, though the city's relationship with FoLT remained unclear as of press time.

The drama is significant, and not just because it may decide the future of one of the city's largest events. It's also an eye into Hales' ability to work with stakeholders like FoLT—a group very much like one he's got in mind to control weekend chaos in Old Town/Chinatown.

A rundown of the controversy: Last Thursday, long criticized by some neighbors and businesses as a magnet for drunken and disrespectful activity, was required this year to obtain a city permit for the first time in its 16-year history.

But Hales' office said FoLT, which has run the event since 2011, didn't meet expectations in May. The city wanted more security guards and toilets—provisions the volunteer group says would have doubled its already-stretched $3,800 monthly overhead.

"We said, 'If you can't get that number of volunteers, that number of porta-potties, let's shrink it,'" said Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, who showed up at the announcement and talked to reporters.

So on June 18, nine days before this month's event, the city gave word that street sweepers would be sent in at 9 pm instead of the traditional closing time at 10 pm. And Last Thursday would also include three fewer blocks of closed streets—stretching from NE 15th to 27th rather than NE 30th.

Haynes characterized those as mere suggestions. But FoLT heard them as mandates, and decided to resign. That meant no one was slated to provide basics like road barriers, restrooms, or security for an event that was days away.

"We said, 'Let's have that conversation,'" Haynes said. "We found out this morning there's been a change in status here."

As first reported by the Mercury, the conflict prompted the mayor to pull back on the new proposals for June's Last Thursday. In addition, the city will pay for street closures.

"We don't know [whom] to work this out with but are eager to work with whomever," Haynes said in an email.

Hales isn't the first mayor to court controversy by tackling the freewheeling Last Thursday, which has had no official oversight for much of its existence. Former Mayor Sam Adams' administration found itself paying close to $10,000 a month to close streets and provide security for the event. Adams took steps toward the end of his tenure to corral the event, threatening to solicit sponsorships and do on-street fundraising to cut the city's costs.

The current fight erupted as Hales looks to create a group that will preside over weekend street closings around Old Town's bars and nightclubs.

Despite criticism that the closures create a sense of desolation in Old Town and hurt business, Hales has pushed forward with that effort, saying it's increased public safety ["Closed for Business?" News, May 1].

In early June, he persuaded his colleagues to set aside concerns and extend the closures until October, while he works to fine-tune it into a "street festival." Part of that will require establishing a nonprofit group of neighborhood stakeholders to administer the changes.

But while the mayor has frequently said leadership in Old Town needs to come from the neighborhood and not city council, FoLT's members would argue he's taken a very different tack on NE Alberta.

"We had a lot of support from the previous city administration," said Jeff Hilber, who runs logistics for the group. "That administration included us all the time. We should have been part of the discussion."

Following the Monday press conference, a FoLT supporter complimented Haynes' handling of the media.

"You did good," the man said, clearly a partisan for his cause. "What you said was bullshit, but that's besides the point."

Haynes laughed.

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