August 22, 2010

Latest buzz in the Old Port? It's safer this summer

Beefed-up security, better weather and the memory of a May tragedy help take the fight out of the night.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Though the night of Friday, Aug. 13, was uncommonly quiet in Portland's Old Port, closing time still resulted in a flood of young people on Wharf Street. This was the scene at about 1:15 a.m., a half-hour after last call.

Matt Wickenheiser photo

click image to enlarge

Oasis doorman Zack Swander, right, checks IDs at about 11 p.m. on the night of Friday, Aug. 13. Oasis and 51 Wharf are using ID scanners that flag any patrons who have previously caused problems at the bars.

Matt Wickenheiser photo

On this Friday night, Sgt. Doherty speculated that the warm weather -- people in T-shirts were still comfortable -- meant that Old Orchard Beach was likely mobbed.

And the recession may have left some people with less money to spend, so they're scaling back their weekend revelry, Fuss said.

"A fair number of people are choosing to take one night off," he said.

EMPHASIS ON SECURITY

Police also launched several initiatives after the Monument Square death. They have, for instance, asked bars to text police and one another when they kick out rowdy patrons.

There have been few such incidents, said Fuss, chairman of the city's Nightlife Oversight Committee, a collection of liquor license holders from the Old Port and Arts District that was created early this decade.

He is aware of three occasions this summer when the network has been used to alert other bars about problem patrons.

On Wharf Street, security workers from Oasis and 51 Wharf chatted, tipping each other off to potential troublemakers.

"We've been seeing the Old Port come together a bit more," said Chip Currier, one of the security workers at Oasis, as he kept an eye on the line outside the club.

Both clubs are using ID scanners that let security know if a person trying to get into a bar has caused problems before. The devices store information about IDs that have been scanned and flag anyone with past problems.

Security workers are also checking out Westbrook Police Department's Facebook page. The department is diligent about putting up mug shots of wanted people, and security wants to keep them out of the bar, Currier said.

The attention to security is spreading through the Old Port, said Mike White, security manager at Oasis. Just this month, Bill's Pizza on Commercial Street began using security personnel to monitor the large crowds that gather there after the bars close and defuse any fights before they start.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

Fuss said that by and large, the Old Port has few problems, and the death on Monument Square was a rare incident.

Today's Old Port is not the Old Port of the 1990s, said White and Currier.

"It's not like it used to be. No one was held responsible for anything that happened," Currier said.

Today, Old Port business owners will call out their peers for not keeping things safe, White said. Having a dangerous reputation isn't good for business, he noted. Many of the businesses have both night and day operations, and a bad reputation will keep people away at all times.

Fuss said members of the nightlife committee are also constantly working on the issue of overserving alcohol. The group gets information out to clubs and bars about responsible bar management, and about how to identify people who are visibly intoxicated so they can be cut off. There are training classes for bar staff, and the committee suggests that bar owners pay for staff to attend.

"It's a complicated problem. It's not just the bars -- it's easy to make the bars the lightning rod for it," Fuss said. "People are coming down for the nightlife scene, but there's lots of people who consume alcohol on their own and then come down to the district."

That happens more in a down economy, Fuss said.

Not everyone has seen a decline in Old Port activity.

Gerard Kiladjian, general manager of the upscale Portland Harbor Hotel, said he hasn't seen anything different from past years. His guests are making the same number of complaints about noise and late-night rowdiness, he said. He did note that it's been a strong year for the hotel, with the rooms often filled, so more guests may result in more complaints.

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