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Portland council yanks Cactus Club licenses, scraps metal art

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Portland council yanks Cactus Club licenses, scraps metal art

PORTLAND — The Cactus Club, a Fore Street bar that has raised the ire of police for several years, failed to have its liquor and entertainment licenses renewed by the City Council Monday night.

The council also voted to get rid of Tracing the Fore, the Boothby Square public art installment.

The council voted 7-1 not to renew the Cactus Club licenses, with Mayor Nick Mavodones in the minority. Club owner Tom Manning testified before the council for more than an hour, asserting that incidents of overserving and fighting reported by police were either wrong or could be blamed on a neighboring pizza parlor.

But police Cmdr. Vern Malloch said "the Police Department has really no confidence in the ability of the Cactus Club to operate in a safe manner." He pointed out that the city had denied the liquor license in 2009, but Manning successfully appealed to the Maine Supreme Court.

The court said the city took too long to notify Manning of its decision, he said, although the decision had been made with Manning and his attorney present.

"This liquor license (denial) was denied before, on a technicality," Malloch said, referring to the court decision.

Police provided councilors with reports of incidents where the club had allegedly overserved two women and then "dumped" them outside. Another incident involved a woman passing out in the bar and then being deposited in a car outside after refusing medical services.

Manning argued that two of the girls had left his club, gone to another establishment and then come back 30 minutes later to the pizza place next door and that is when police were flagged down to help them. He said one girl – the one who was unresponsive on the sidewalk in front of the club, laying in her own vomit – had been on medication.

Police said Manning's manager confirmed on the night of the incident that the girls had been sober when they arrived at the club. Police said they were removed from the club by staff and "deposited outside where they lacked the ability to care for themselves."

Manning said he is being targeted by police, who park cruisers directly across from his bar and videotape activity at the door. He said he applied for a protection-from-harassment order against the Police Department, but Malloch said the order was not granted.

Councilor Jill Duson said the reports from officers were compelling, and clearly attributed incidents in the vicinity of the club to the club.

"The applicant is very good at moving around the edges of the licensing process," Duson said. She also said there was a pattern of management not changing its operation despite the police concerns.

Tracing the Fore

The council voted unanimously, with Councilor Cheryl Leeman absent, to remove Tracing the Fore. The Public Art Committee had asked the council to weigh in on whether the piece should be relocated to the Mercy Hospital Fore River campus.

The relocation would have cost as much as $50,000. Removing the piece will cost about $8,000.

The work consists of jagged metal waves and long grass. The grass never grew correctly, and the installation was plagued by weeds. Neighbors began complaining last year that the piece had become an eyesore.

It was designed by artist Shawna Gillis-Smith and installed in about four years ago. The city has paid $135,000 for installation and upkeep. Although the Public Art Committee voted in November 2010 to relocate the piece, the council did not agree Monday night.

"This particular piece doesn't work in our collection," Councilor Dave Marshall said.

Mavodones said he doubted the piece would work any better on the Fore River hospital campus.

The Public Art Committee will now have to decide what steps it needs to take to deaccession the piece.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net