On the street again: Portland's Meg Perry Center loses Old Port space
PORTLAND — An August afternoon on Market Street typically features lots of comings and goings of tourists and business people, while drivers jockey for parking spaces.
On Friday, Aug. 22, the scene was all goings at the nonprofit Meg Perry Center, which for the second time in less than a year found itself looking for a home.
"If this was an upscale jazz club, we would have had no problems," board member Brian Leonard said as he, fellow board member Will Hessian and volunteers dismantled and packed the center's furniture, books and art into a rental truck Hessian had squeezed into a loading zone outside the basement of 36 Market St.
The center, established in 2007, had a sub-lease agreement that provided space for its programs of music, poetry readings, open-mic nights and political activism.
But less than five months after subletting the space to the center, Market Street Eats owner Matt Roy evicted the center for lease violations that included unlicensed live music shows and disruptions to other businesses in the building.
"They were given multiple notices of things you can't be doing," Roy said Tuesday. "(The warnings) were basically ignored."
Roy said he gave the center 90 days to vacate the basement space because the violations he cited put him in violation of his lease with the building owners.
Leonard and Hessian said the center is still looking for a new home. So far, the search has been fruitless and frustrating.
"We have an alternative business model people say doesn't fit into any space," Hessian said. "But the people of the city need it and want it."
The center, named in honor of Meg Perry, who died in an accident in 2005 while assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina, was turned out of its space at 644 Congress St. last fall.
Center activities and meetings were dispersed throughout the city until the Market Street space became available. After the May 1 opening, Hessian said the center had gained new members and a new vitality.
"We have 60 new volunteers and 50 more band contacts, most of them local," he said.
Inside the center on Aug. 22 conversations swirled around a citywide minimum wage, the hazards of a global economy, gentrification on the Peninsula, and the philosophies of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.
But Leonard and Hessian said the center is about more than politics, and had found its niche in the Old Port.
"We are colorful," Leonard said, "but a safe colorful."
Hessian said at least 12 poetry readings and six open-mic nights dotted the center calendar since May 1. The chem-free gathering spot has also hosted films, political organizing events, concerts, and a weekly coffeehouse.
Leonard said planned events will now be dispersed throughout the Peninsula, including at A Space for Grace at 1 Marginal Way and the Community Television Network at 516 Congress St. Negotiations to sublet at CTN fell through, Leonard said.
The center will also increase its Internet presence to keep people aware of coming events and developments, Leonard said.
Before settling on Market Street, the center board considered a move to East Bayside. Leonard said he sees great future potential in that neighborhood, but it has drawbacks.
"In the near future, it is still hard to get people down there and be a part of things," Leonard said.
Despite ever-increasing lease rates, Hessian and Leonard said it has never been a question of financial solvency in finding a home.
"Rent has never been an issue with us," Hessian said. "It is finding a landlord willing to have us."