The City of Portland needs a new noise ordinance, one that doesn’t drive existing bars and nightclubs out of the city while also ensuring that overnight guests at downtown hotels can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.

That was the consensus of about 50 bar and nightclub owners, concert promoters, downtown business owners and downtown residents who gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Maine Historical Society to discuss ways to preserve the city’s vibrant night life without putting the bars and clubs that make it such an alluring after hours destination out of business.

“Noise Downtown,” was organized by Portland Downtown, the nonprofit organization established in 1992 to promote and enhance the image of downtown Portland. Until recently, the organization was known as Portland’s Downtown District.

The group said a balance must be struck between the rights of hotel guests, who have complained that the nightclub scene on Fore and Wharf Streets in the Old Port has become too noisy, against the rights of Old Port bars and nightclubs that feature live music.

“We need to continue this conversation,” said Denine Leeman, who serves as Chairwoman of Portland Downtown’s board of directors. “We are heading for a compromise so that people can continue to live, work and play in Portland.”

Leeman said another meeting will be held before the group begins crafting a noise ordinance. Leeman said the existing noise ordinance has proven ineffective and difficult to enforce.

She said Portland Downtown was asked by City Councilor Edward Suslovic to hold community meetings, draft a new noise ordinance, and then present it to the Health and Human Services Committee for consideration.

The committee will review the proposal and hold public hearings before presenting it to the full council for final approval.

Portland’s existing noise ordinance restricts leaked noise to 92 decibels within 8 feet of a bar or club’s doors. That level is roughly equal to the noise produced by a heavy truck 25 feet away, a passing subway train heard from a subway platform, or a 737 jet taking off from about a mile away.

Hotels such as the Portland Harbor Hotel and Hyatt Place continue to receive complaints from guests about nighttime noise. Most of the nearby bars and nightclubs had been operating for years before places such as the Hyatt opened in May 2014.

A couple from Boston stayed at Hyatt Place in December. They reviewed the hotel on Trip Advisor and said it was situated in a good location for walking around the city.

They gave the hotel a positive review, but added, “The front desk staff was very nice. They offered us earplugs and a noise machine for the night as they said the city view side can be noisy at night.”

The couple went on to write that they were awakened between 1 and 2:30 a.m. by people shouting in the street.

“There are a lot of people, who come to support our local economy and choose not to come back because it is so loud at night,” Hyatt’s General Manager Alen Sarich told the group.

Gerard Kiladjian, general manager of the Portland Harbor Hotel, said in 2007 his hotel invested more than $65,000 to soundproof the building. It has not been effective.

“What has been happening is the (outside) noise just keeps getting louder and louder,” Kiladjian said. “We need to find a way to work together that will satisfy everyone’s interests.”

Robert Dyer operates 51 Wharf, an Old Port bar and nightclub. The nightspot is within a few hundred feet of both hotels.

“People need to realize that the Old Port has been a bar and nightclub district since I was a kid,” said the 42-year-old Dyer. “People come to Portland for the nightlife. Sometimes we are looked at as a nuisance but people forget that we bring a lot of money into this city.”

Some suggestions that came out of Wednesday’s meeting, besides developing a new noise ordinance, included hiring a sound engineer with the expertise to reduce noise emanating from sound systems at Old Port bars and clubs, and hiring a person who could work late nights and weekends to enforce the noise ordinance.

“You have a vibrant community,” said Alex Gray, a concert promoter for Waterfront Concerts. Gray’s firm has staged concerts at Darlings Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor and the Maine State Pier in Portland. “But you can kill it by putting in an ordinance that is too restrictive.”

 


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