Mayor Charlie Hales' efforts to bring Alberta's often-rowdy summer Last Thursday festivities into line might wind up derailing them.
Friends of Last Thursday, the volunteer organization that's helped oversee the event for the past two years, announced Sunday evening it's giving up, spurred by a set of conditions Hales set in order for the monthly street fair to earn official sanction.
"Complying with the presented demands would compromise the integrity of the relationships FoLT has developed with the businesses on Alberta St and all participants in Last Thursday," FoLT said in a release announcing an 11 am press conference this morning. "The most egregious of these demands is a force ending of the event at 9:00p.m. and opening the street enforced by the presence of pressurized water hoses."
This is the first mention there's been of hose-enforced crowd dispersion at the event, and previous reporting has indicated Hales set a 10 pm end-time for the summer festivals. I've got a message in with Hales' office about the claim.
Whether it's true or not, the specter of civil-rights-era style hose evacuations (which surely no one in the city is advocating) has drawn the bulk of reaction to FoLT's announcement, which it also posted on its Facebook page (along with, yup, a picture of civil rights protestors getting fire-hosed in 1963 Birmingham).
"I, for one, welcome our new water hosing overlords," one user wrote.
"Why would they even consider such a violent act as pressurized water hoses?" said another. "Such a stupid thing to even contemplate."
Update, 10 am: Hales spokesman Dana Haynes says Friends of Last Thursday's claims about hoses refers merely to cleaning the streets after the event is done. He confirms that the mayor has required the event end at 9 pm, after the city's demands weren't met for the year's first Last Thursday festivities last month.
"The May Last Thursday was a bit of a missed opportunity," Haynes writes in an e-mail. "The city had asked for a set number of volunteers, security workers, Porta-potties, open streets. Etc. Didn’t get there."
As to the street cleaning, he said: "We do it now, anyway. The thought is to put a period on the end of the sentence after Last Thursday is done. It’s one of the things the neighbors have asked for."
Haynes said there's no telling what FoLT's stepping down could mean for the event. " I think a lot of people are invested in this being a great street fair. I suspect another resident or business might step in, but we’re not sure."
Hales has also demanded the festivities end at NE 27th. It currently runs along NE Alberta from 15th to 30th.
Original post: Last Thursday began in 1997 as a smallish gathering for the city's artists to show off their work. Today it's a 15-block behemoth throughout the summer, drawing thousands of Portlanders each month and spurring criticism it's become a magnet for drunkenness, public urination, littering and other issues.
It's also been a financial drain on the city. Until recently, Portland officials had been content to let the free-spiritedness of Last Thursdays play out relatively on their own terms—owing, in part, to the protestations of supporters, who say the event is quintessentially Portland and would be disfigured with too much regulation. According to a 2011 story in the Oregonian, the event cost the city as much as $10,000 a month under Mayor Sam Adams, cash that went to "police, security, barricades and transportation."
Adams took steps toward the end of his administration to corral Last Thursday, threatening to solicit sponsorships and do on-the-street fundraising to cut the city's costs. Hales has taken the matter up in force.
It's not the first push-back the mayor's seen on his approach to street festivities in his almost half-year in office. Despite protestations from business owners and residents, Hales has bulled forward on plans to continue weekend street closures around Old Town's night clubs. The mayor succeeded earlier this month in convincing his colleagues to extend the closures through October, but there are lingering questions about how he'll transform the project into the "street festival" he's talked up. Right now, the closures leave Old Town's "entertainment district" feeling sort of desolate.