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CCE schedules meeting to clear air

Portland’s Festival of Cultural Exchange on August 6 and 7 featured over 40 performances from all around the city and the globe and attracted some 5000 people, according to organizers. The Festival, which is presented by the nonprofit Center for Cultural Exchange (CCE), also managed to piss off a whole lot of locals from the neighborhood, who were annoyed that the block on Congress Street between Longfellow Square and the State Theatre was cordoned off to foot traffic this year. Business owners in and around the festival are also peeved — Rick Marsh, owner of Phone Cards, Etc. at 634 Congress Street, estimates he lost about $800 in sales on Saturday alone because the street was closed — and state representative Herb Adams says he was approached by 17 shop owners, patrons, and residents of the neighborhood throughout the weekend who were upset about this year’s format.

Annie Wadleigh, a resident of High Street, distributed dozens of contact forms in area stores for residents interested in complaining to the city council about the festival. She also sent letters to Mayor Jill Duson, city councilors Nick Mavadones, Peter O’Donnell, and Karen Geraghty, and city manager Joel Gray.

Phyllis O’Neill, executive director of the CCE, has scheduled a neighborhood meeting next week to discuss this year’s festival.

To make matters worse, it appears CCE never had permission from the city to block Congress Street in the first place.

According to Peter DeWitt, director of City Communications, CCE misunderstood the "event declaration" from the city council. The declaration allows the area to be "closed to traffic," but there is no mention of curtailing foot traffic.

"They can’t disallow access to the street," he says. "Our language was really clear. From what I understand from the Center for Cultural Exchange, there was miscommunication from the [CCE] staff."

The miscommunication DeWitt refers to went straight to the top, as O’Neill readily admits to manning the gates of the festival, with other volunteers, throughout the weekend.

When reached by phone last week about DeWitt’s assertion that CCE didn’t have permission to close the street, O’Neill said she was too busy with other projects to respond. O’Neill did note that, when approached by the blocks’ business owners like Mary Allan Lindemann of Coffee By Design, she posted small signs at the gates allowing free access for residents and patrons of local businesses.

"I personally did not see anyone turned away," she says.

The meeting to discuss this year’s Festival will be held at the Center for Cultural Exchange, One Longfellow Square, at 5:30 pm on September 8.

Issue Date: September 2 - 8, 2005
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