Two hotels in the Old Port want the Portland City Council to take another look at how much noise is allowed at bars and nightclubs, after complaints from guests who have said their stays were disrupted by loud music and boisterous patrons in the streets.

The police department and the City Council will reconvene the city’s Sound Oversight Committee in the coming month to examine complaints from the Portland Harbor Hotel and the Hyatt Place Portland, said Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

Both are located at the corner of Union and Fore streets, and both have dozens of hotel-room windows overlooking the epicenter of Portland’s small but lively nightclub scene on Fore Street and Wharf Street.

Although the bars and clubs appear to be conforming to the letter of the law, which restricts leaked noise to 92 decibels within 8 feet from their doors, internal hotel surveys and reviews by guests on travel websites show that nighttime noise remains a leading complaint, said Hyatt General Manager Alen Sarich and Harbor Hotel General Manager Aaron Black. Weekend nights generate the most complaints.

The hotels say their guests stay there because they appreciate being smack in the middle of Portland’s liveliest tourist area, but what is a blessing during the day turns into a curse after dark.

“Our guests like to stay downtown because it’s walking distance from restaurants and shops,” said Sarich, who said he has received regular, steady complaints since the hotel opened in May.


Sarich said he has been trying to work with the city, but so far “nothing has changed, unfortunately. It seems to be a slow-going process.”


Most of the bars and nightclubs in the area were operating for years before the Hyatt opened in May 2014, but the influx of new hotel patrons has exacerbated tensions between people who want to enjoy Old Port night life and hotel guests who want to stay in the historic area, but want peace and quiet late at night.

“We’re interested in maintaining a vibrant night life, but at the same time there’s going to be a need to manage how much sound leaks from clubs and other places,” said Steve Hewins, executive director of the Portland Downtown District, a nonprofit that advocates for downtown economic development. “That issue’s been ongoing for years.”

All over online review sites, the complaints are loud and clear.

“My fiance and I loved the location of the hotel,” a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman wrote on TripAdvisor after a Labor Day weekend stay at the Hyatt. “We woke up the next morning and were able to walk to the ferry in five minutes. … My one big complaint is the noise at night. … It was so noisy in town (music, shouting) that I needed ear plugs to sleep.”


Another reviewer laid the blame at the feet of the hotel developers for not mitigating the problem with sound-proofing material and thicker windows.

“Hyatt dropped the ball by ever approving a franchise for this location without addressing the sound issues,” wrote a North Carolina man who visited Portland in October. “The hotel staff is fighting a losing battle with guest satisfaction.”

Doug Fuss, owner of Bull Feeney’s on Fore Street, said the hotel developers could have incorporated more sound-blocking material into their building plans, “but doing so can be expensive.”


On a recent Friday night, a decibel meter showed no bars or clubs in the area exceeding the 92-decibel limit. But the noise made by patrons outside sometimes spiked louder. When the bars closed at 1 a.m., hundreds of people poured into the streets and the intersection of Wharf and Union streets, just beneath dozens of windows in the Portland Harbor Hotel, turned into a de facto cab stand as the crowd broke into smaller groups and packed into waiting taxis. Some people tottered down the street, arm in arm, precariously fording banks of snow.

One patron, Chris LeBlanc, 22, who was waiting outside Pearl Lounge on Fore Street across from the Hyatt, said he, too, had heard a complaint about the noise.


“My aunt was staying at the Hyatt,” LeBlanc said. “She could hear everybody all night.”

The four-person sound oversight committee will be chaired by a non-voting police lieutenant, and will be charged with reviewing the noise complaints. The other members will be a liquor-license holder, a representative appointed by the city manager and a Portland resident. Sauschuck said he expects to recommend to the City Council that the committee be formed within the next three or four weeks.


Meanwhile, the City Council Public Safety Committee also plans to re-examine the noise ordinance.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who chairs the committee, said he sees the problem as temporary, with clubs being replaced in the long term by establishments that attract an older, more sophisticated crowd, driven by the neighborhood’s rising real estate values.

In the meantime, however, solutions for hotel guests can be elusive, especially when bars are complying with the noise ordinance. Police have few options for quieting hundreds of people who leave the bars en masse at the 1 a.m. closing time.


“I’m not sure how effective the police would be in going up to people and saying, ‘I’m sorry, could you use your inside voice, please?’ ” Suslovic said.

Other cities have more restrictive decibel limits. Boston limits decibel levels to 50 from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and 70 at all other times. For comparison, the noise intensity in a typical restaurant or office is roughly 60 decibels, and riding in a passenger car at 65 mph registers about 77 decibels.

Portland’s 92-decibel limit is roughly equal to the noise intensity of a heavy truck from 25 feet away, a passing subway train heard from the platform or a 737 taking off about a mile away.

This story was updated at 8:35 p.m. Jan. 22 to correct the location of the Portland Harbor Hotel and the Hyatt Place Portland.

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