Last Thursday drew thousands to Alberta Street on June 30 for the festival's summer opener. Unlike similar Portland street parties, however, it was held without permits, and entirely at public expense.
For reasons that remain somewhat unclear, but have to do with Mayor Sam Adams' office, the City of Portland doesn't require the sprawling, 15-block festival to follow the same procedures required of a small, casual block party.
On top of that, for the past several years Last Thursday has been funded exclusively by the City of Portland, rather than vendors—to the tune of $30,000 last year.
Tucker Teutsch, whom the city hired as a contract "event coordinator" for Last Thursday, simply hands invoices for sanitation, security, traffic control and publicity over to Adams' office, which pays them.
"I basically say, 'Here's the receipt,'" says Teutsch, who is paid $10,000 to stage six Last Thursdays.
It's not so easy for other neighborhood events, or the big festivals on Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Those parties must not only obtain city permits, they also cover all their own expenses.
The double standard frustrates organizations such as the Belmont Area Business Association, which spent $15,000 to hold its annual one-day event in 2010.
"There are 38 business districts in the city. For the city to take on sponsorship for one of them is unfair," says Nancy Chapin, owner of TSG Services, the event management company used by several business-district associations, including Belmont's.
Teutsch says the crowd that comes to Alberta is "a natural outgrowth of art culture. We have an arts and culture mayor right now, so I imagine that he is thinking along similar lines," he says.
Nevertheless, Teutsch says, "The understanding [with the mayor's office] is that Last Thursday needs to grow up."
City officials want a private group called Friends of Last Thursday to take financial and regulatory responsibility for the event.
"The city's goal by next year is to have an organization in place that is capable of getting a permit," says Mayor Adams' spokeswoman, Amy Ruiz.
That is almost exactly what organizers said last year, when The Oregonian reported on permitting issues at Last Thursday.
Now some Alberta Streeters want the city to take a firmer hand with the traffic, public drinking and urination that have come with Last Thursday crowds. In a complaint he mailed to Adams, King Neighborhood Association Chairman Alan Silver said "neighbors have found dented cars, garbage and tire tracks on their lawns, damaged private property, used condoms and vandalism."
After problems with public drinking in his parking lot, John Janulis, co-owner of Alberta Street's Bye and Bye restaurant, closes his doors for the festival and hires a security guard to patrol the lot. Janulis wants the city to ensure that crowds are dispersed at a fixed hour.
Meanwhile, the lack of city permits complicates Multnomah County's responsibility to regulate food vendors. "An event like Last Thursday—that doesn't have to follow the regular rules—makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for all the people who are responsible for keeping the community safe to do their jobs," says Multnomah County spokesman David Austin.
But thousands of attendees and vendors don't care about the fuss.
"This is what makes Portland Portland," says Sammy Eath, an 18-year-old artist who displayed his paintings at the most recent Last Thursday. "If you start regulating and charging people, it will be Seattle."