Portland hotels blame local bars for their own poor planning

When construction of the Hyatt Place Portland was completed in May of 2014, not everyone was happy with the final product.

The off-putting, metallic-looking building located at 433 Fore Street (right in the heart of Portland’s historic red brick and cobblestone Old Port district) was referred to by Cliff Gallant of the now defunct Portland Daily Sun as “industrial ugly.”

The Hyatt Place Portland at 433 Fore Street.

The Hyatt Place Portland at 433 Fore Street.

Gallant wasn’t alone in his assessment, and people from all over the city agreed that the design is out of character, but it was too late.

So Portlanders have been forced to live with industrial ugly intruding into our picturesque Old Port- just like surrounding businesses were forced to live with the hit to their bottom lines they experienced while Fore Street was effectively shut down during the hotel’s unapologetically obtrusive construction on top of what had been a much needed parking lot.

Of course, representatives for the Hyatt and the city proclaimed that the hotel would satisfy an important void in Portland’s hospitality industry even though about a gazillion other hotels were either being built or being planned at the same time.

Whether the void was real or fabricated, people around town have largely forgiven the hotel for their obnoxious construction and unbecoming exterior design, or at least forgotten about it.

Now, after settling into their new digs, management at the Hyatt Place is finding things to complain about, and they’ve targeted the same people they disrupted during their construction- neighboring businesses and the people of Portland themselves.

As was reported on Tuesday by Matt Byrne in the Portland Press Herald, the Hyatt Place Portland, along with the Portland Harbor Hotel have filed complaints asking the Portland City Council to reexamine the allowable noise levels at bars and nightclubs.

Currently, city ordinance allows for 92 decibels, and by all accounts from hotel management, neighboring bar and nightclub owners, and the Portland Police Department, those levels are being adhered to.

But that, apparently, isn’t good enough for the two hotels.

The Hyatt Place Portland (left) and the Portland Harbor Hotel (right) in the middle of the Old Port.

The Hyatt Place Portland (left) and the Portland Harbor Hotel (right) in the middle of the Old Port.

Spearheaded by the Hyatt Place, and piggybacked by the Portland Harbor, they’re highlighting a trend of negative online reviews from cranky guests with enough time to moan about the trip on their way home, but not enough time to do a little online research before booking a room in what is notoriously the noisiest section of town.

So, rather than take responsibility for not sound proofing the walls and windows of their new building- an oversight which was mentioned by every business owner or city representative interviewed for this story except the general manager of one of the hotels in question- they’ve instead cast blame at the bars and nightclubs that have co-existed in the Old Port for decades.

(In fairness to the Portland Harbor, they’ve been around since the turn of the century, but they’ve made similar complaints in the past.)

Reached on a phone call Tuesday afternoon, Hyatt Place Portland’s general manager, Alen Sarich, had this to say:

“We are a downtown hotel and the noise from the streets is unfortunately not something we are able to control. I think that the noise from the bars is where the majority of the complaints come from.”

Contrary to Sarich’s claims, Byrne wrote:

“On a recent Friday night, a decibel meter showed no bars or clubs in the area exceeding the 92-decibel limit. But the noise made by patrons outside sometime spiked louder. When the bars closed at 1 a.m., hundreds of people poured into the streets.”

Regardless of Sarich’s (inaccurate) assessment of the source of what he calls “noise pollution,” one would think that he would have at least reached out to his peers before running to City Hall with what amounts to a fabricated tattle tale.

But he didn’t, and he’s found a way to blame the bar and nightclub owners for that too.

 “I haven’t necessarily gone and spoken with every one of our neighboring businesses because it’s actually quite hard to get in touch with them,” said Sarich.

Actually, it’s quite easy. So easy in fact that I was able to speak with one of them on Tuesday morning simply by knocking on the front door and introducing myself.

Bob Waitkevitch is the owner of Fore Play Sports Pub, located at 436 Fore Street, directly across the street from the Hyatt’s entrance.

Bob Waitkevitch, owner of Portland's Fore Play Sports Pub.

Bob Waitkevitch, owner of Portland’s Fore Play Sports Pub.

Waitkevitch, who welcomed me in to talk even though they hadn’t yet opened for the day, said that not only has Sarich never attempted to contact him or introduce himself, but he didn’t even know Sarich’s name prior to reading Byrne’s report in the Press Herald just minutes before I walked in:

“There needs to be an open dialogue between the hotel and everybody else and they have not even attempted to talk to anybody, they’re just going straight to the city. I just found out the GM’s name when I read the article in the Press Herald five minutes ago.”

He continued:

“They built that nice seven story hotel, and we were happy to have them even though it was a real pain in the neck during construction, but they built it right smack dab in the middle of the biggest entertainment district in the state.

We’ve been here for twenty years, and bars have been in the Old Port for as long as Portland has been a city.

There are hotels built right next to airports that don’t ever have noise complaints, so maybe they should have invested more in sound-proofing the building.”

Speaking of airports, according to Byrne and the Press Herald:

“Portland’s 92-decibel limit is roughly equal to the noise intensity of a heavy truck from 25 feet away, a passing subway train heard from the platform or a 737 taking off about a mile away.”

So if hotels can survive right next to the Portland Jetport, why can’t Hyatt Place and the Portland Harbor Hotel invest enough in their buildings to sound proof their exterior walls and guest room windows?

The answer is simple. They could spring for the sound proofing, but it’s easier for the billion dollar hotel chain to condemn the blue-collar bars in the Old Port than it is for them to take responsibility for their own poor planning and market research.

Sarich made a point of telling me that he’s been in Portland for sixteen years, but he must have a short memory because he doesn’t seem to realize how easy he has it in today’s Old Port.

Waitkevitch agrees:

 “The Old Port is a cakewalk compared to what it was when we first opened up twenty years ago, or even just five or ten years ago. What it was in 1995 compared to what it is in 2015, I mean, you can’t even compare the two. It’s just a much nicer, cleaner, safer place than it ever has been.”

“At some point they’re just going to have to accept the fact that the nightlife is here, and it’s here to stay.”

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.