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Meeting could decide fate of Last Thursday on Alberta

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Last Thursday on Alberta: A tough crowd.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A community meeting this Monday (2/8) being hosted by Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Sam Adams could have a major impact on the future of the Last Thursday on Alberta event. The meeting’s event page states, “The Mayor and Commissioner are considering options for Last Thursday.”

Those options include:

  • Continue the event as is
  • Continue the event with significant changes
  • End Last Thursday on Alberta
  • “The City wants to neuter the event to make it into a First Thursday clone… The watered down event the City wants has no appeal to me. I will not
    run or help run that event. I like the quirky Last Thursday that we have had.”
    — Magnus Johannesson, Alberta St. activist and businessman

    The announcement alone has set off some alarms.

    Last Thursday, which began as an artwalk similar to First Thursday in the Pearl District, has evolved over the years into a distinct event that’s more of a free-form street fair than a wine-and-cheese stroll for potential art buyers. The event has also grown in size. Thousands of people come from all over the city to stroll down Alberta street and soak up the atmosphere.

    But the crowds and carnival-like ambiance are both blessing and curse.

    The event has a checkered past and tensions between the neighborhood and the City are well-known. In the summer of 2008, as the event continued to grow well beyond what the sidewalks alone could support, local activist and real estate developer Magnus Johannesson took things into his own hands.

    Can neighbors work out their differences?

    Johannesson parked a junked-out car in the middle of the street to create a roadblock. The result of Johannesson’s stunt was a de facto carfree street where people could walk and stroll without fear of passing cars.

    The carfree event was so popular that City Hall decided to (begrudgingly) work with Johannesson and his fledgling non-profit, Team Last Thursday, to allow it to continue. But that relationship has always been on shaky ground.

    Johannesson’s vision for the event — to keep it free (in all senses of the word), “spontaneous,” and open to anyone — has made it hugely popular (and he seems to relish the bargaining power that popularity has given him). But the crowds have also strained relationships with some in the neighborhood and in City Hall who have real concerns about parking, public drinking and urination, noise levels (from non-permitted live music), and so on.

    Johannesson feels like the city wants to “neuter the event to make it into a First Thursday clone.” If that happens, Johannesson told me he has no desire to be involved any longer. “The watered down event the City wants has no appeal to me. I will not run or help run that event. I like the quirky Last Thursday that we have had.” He foresees a hostile crowd at Monday’s meeting. “People that like the event are not likely to attend.”

    To the event’s detractors, Johannesson says, “We are all adults, but do we really want to be telling our children about the freedoms we used to have back in the day? Think about it before you just react. Come up with solutions, be a part of the answer.”

    In their current budget request, the Portland Bureau of Transportation — who has already been partially subsidizing the event — requests $25,000 a year (for the next three years) out of the City’s General Fund to pay for traffic control. City Commisioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and is well known for scrutinizing every penny in the City’s budget, has put herself in the middle of this issue.

    Sources in City Hall say Fritz is not a fan of what Last Thursday has turned into. (I have a call into Fritz’s staffer on this issue, Dora Perry, but have not heard back.)

    Fritz is now in the difficult role of balancing constituents who love the event the way it is, while having to respect complaints from some neighbors that feel it has gotten out of hand. Will Fritz try to shut the event down? If she does, will Mayor Adams stand up to support it? What does the majority of the neighborhood feel about the event (Johannesson thinks they’re on his side)?

    Come to the meeting this Monday night to find out and to share your input. Before you go, learn about the history of cops, clowns, bikes and carfree activism around the event via our Last Thursday on Alberta tag.

    Watch the 48 second video of the event I shot back in 2008 to hear from Johannesson and get a feel for the event: