Mayor Sam Adams and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the city Office of Neighborhood Involvement, held a meeting last night that Adams hoped would air out “the positive, negative, and everything in-between” of Alberta's Last Thursday.
Adams began the evening at the jam-packed Acadia Ballroom by informing people not to jeer, comment or clap at the testifiers. Asked instead to use silent “jazz hands” or “spirit fingers” to show support for speakers, at times the event felt like an overnight camp get-together.
Most of the people at the hearing seemed to agree with Justin and Bianca YoungYoungers, owners of Binks on Alberta St. They called Last Thursday a “huge treasure” and asked people to remember why the area is called “the Alberta arts district.” Jazz hands ensued.
Last Thursday costs the city about $13,000 to put on each month when the weather gets warm. That expense combined with the issues of noise, trash and public urination on Alberta and other neighborhood streets have put the festival's future in doubt. One resident said he now has the Portland Parking Enforcement on speed dial after all the times he's come home during Last Thursday to find a car blocking his driveway.
In her opening comments, Fritz suggested rotating Last Thursday around the city. That option, along with the idea of charging vendors – which Justin YoungYoungers said belonged in an “art censorship district” – suffered from a lack of spirit fingers.
Whether Last Thursday is a community nuisance or a community builder, it's good at what it does – drawing more than 10,000 people each warm month and helping market Portland to tourists and young people, according to Bill Rowlins, an Alberta Street art gallery owner. He said 80 percent of his business comes on Last Thursday.
The night's strongest showing of jazz hands might have come when one woman said “the city has a responsibility to fund Last Thursday to perpetuity, especially because of all the positive economic reverberations it causes.”
Some other funding suggestions included adding features such as a parade (pets and hats were among the suggested parade themes) that would charge attendees; building a much larger volunteer corps to help lower costs; and putting a locked donation box on the street.