FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2014 – Mayor Charlie Hales announced today a set of changes for the monthly Last Thursday celebrations on Northeast Alberta Street. Among the most notable: the summer festivals will end at 9 p.m., to address concerns of neighborhood residents. And the mayor’s office will study the option of charging fees, possibly to food vendors and local bars and restaurants that remain open during the festivities.
“We’re working together with the organizers, the neighbors and the local business community to make Last Thursday a terrific event for everybody,” Mayor Hales said.
The street fair, now in its 17th season, began as an art walk and has mushroomed into a street fair that reaches crowds of up to 20,000 people during the peak of the season. Today, Last Thursday stretches for 15 blocks along Alberta Street. Last Thursday has drawn artists, musicians, food vendors and performers from all over the country to Portland on an annual basis, making it one of Portland’s iconic events.
In recent years, neighbors have complained about livability concerns, including public urinations, drunkenness, loitering, littering, noise, double parking and fights. The monthly celebrations also have run deep into the early hours of Fridays.
Last year, during his first year in office, Mayor Hales began exploring ways of maintaining the celebration while addressing neighborhood concerns. He also asked staff to investigate alternative funding proposals.
“Last year, taxpayers throughout Portland subsidized Last Thursday by an estimated $75,000 to $80,000,” said Chad Stover, project manager in the mayor’s office. “That includes police, fire, Transportation Bureau personnel, and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. The Mayor’s Office also covered the cost of port-a-potties, garbage, recycling and security services.”
Stover and others in the mayor’s office will spend part of this year looking for an alternative to having the events sponsored by the taxpayers. Typically, organizers of street fairs develop non-profit status, work together with businesses and neighbors in the area, and apply for a permit from the city. City services are provided in a support role, but the organizers are primarily responsible for funding and management. In the case of Last Thursday, no such body was ever created and, as a result, taxpayers have been covering the cost.
“The mayor believes that should be the model for Last Thursday as well,” Stover said.
No decision has been reached regarding the amount of fees, or who would be asked to pay them.
“Last Thursday is a special event that many Portlanders love,” Hales said. “We want to find a way to make it a sustainable event that is welcomed and appreciated by neighbors and businesses, as well as the Last Thursday enthusiasts who attend each year. Ultimately, the event needs to manage appropriately and it needs a financial home.”
Among the changes to expect this year: The events will end at 9 p.m. Police will strictly enforce open-container drinking in the right of way, as well as marijuana use. Neither was enforced strictly in the past. The Noise Office and police will work to bring street musicians within compliance of the city’s noise code The city will look for ways to cover the extraordinary costs borne by taxpayers. Possibilities include applying fees to restaurants and bars that are open during the event, food vendors in the street, artists and performers.