Portland council to reconsider Maine State Pier concert permit

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PORTLAND — The City Council on April 18 is expected to decide the future of shows promoted by Waterfront Concerts at the Maine State Pier.

Councilors will vote that night on whether to rescind the annual permit unanimously granted to Waterfront Concerts on Feb. 5.

Reconsideration had a first reading at Monday’s council meeting and then was discussed in a closed-door session following the meeting. City Manager Jon Jennings has recommended the festival license be awarded to a different, but unspecified, promoter.

The reconsideration comes as Mayor Ethan Strimling and some councilors, including Brian Batson and Spencer Thibodeau, have questioned whether the city should be doing business with Alex Gray, the owner and president of Waterfront.

Gray pleaded guilty last fall to a charge of domestic violence assault. On April 1, his victim, Erica Cole, addressed an open letter to Portland and Bangor officials, objecting to them doing business with Gray in light of his conviction.

Cole declined further comment in an April 4 email, but her letter described physical and emotional damages that left her homeless for several months and eventually drove her from Portland.

“The physical injuries have healed, but the emotional trauma will long be something I need to overcome,” Cole said in her letter. Police said her jaw was fractured and she received head injuries in the attack in March 2017.

On Feb. 5, Batson was the only councilor to directly ask how much involvement Gray had with Waterfront shows in Portland.

“I was happy to ask it, and when it came up on my radar, it was a primary concern,” Batson said April 5.

Waterfront was represented that night by production manager Jon Dow, who said the company has 18 salaried employees, and he would be most directly involved with Maine State Pier concerts.

“You wouldn’t see Alex that often, to tell you the truth,” Dow said.

After publishing her open letter, Cole met with both Strimling and Jennings. Both came away grateful she spoke up and impressed by her actions, they said.

“Her story is heartbreaking. We all in this country have got to do more. I felt like on (Feb. 5), I did not do enough,” Strimling said.

Jennings said there was already a wider discussion of the future of concerts on the pier last fall, and city staff held off on asking the council to approve a festival permit while Gray’s case was pending.

Ultimately, Jennings felt it was his responsibility to bring the permit request to the council, despite “a very disturbing set of circumstances.”

After taking public comment on April 18, councilors could rescind the festival permit.

Thibodeau said the council should take a stand on who the city does business with, and he would like to hear from Gray. He added, however, that he does not want to retry the case.

Despite his own doubts, Thibodeau said Gray “is also entitled to come before us and explain why we should enter into a contract with him.”

Batson said he wants to know more about how involved Gray is with Waterfront Concerts.

“The tough part about it is not punishing the employees who have done nothing wrong based on the owner’s past mistakes,” Batson said.

Waterfront Concerts has been promoting shows at the Maine State Pier since 2014. Last year’s 17 shows produced $54,000 in revenue for the city. In 2016 there were 27 shows. Dow said at least 15 are planned for this year; four are already being advertised on the company website.

Waterfront Concerts also has four shows scheduled at city-owned Merrill Auditorium.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A capacity crowd enjoys a 2015 show promoted by Waterfront Concerts at the Maine State Pier in Portland. The city is reconsidering whether to allow the company to promote concerts this year.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.