Ridiculous and sublime

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 23, 2008

Comings + goings
Big venue successes (Novare Res, Empire Dine and Dance) balanced disappointments (the second closure of Granny's) on the local shopping-dining-nightlife scene. Several high-end women's retail stores in the Old Port (Simply Chic, Amaryllis) closed down, FatBaxters turned into Rosemont Market and Bakery, Binga's Wingas burned (and opened a new joint in Yarmouth), Port City Music Hall readied for its opening night in January (see "Venue Watch," by Deirdre Fulton, November 26), and the State Theatre stayed shuttered. Shocker: "It's been a challenging year for many people in this business," says Godfrey Wood, head of the Portland Regional Chamber. "We're kind of near the bottom here in terms of consumer confidence."

The FairPoint mess
The FairPoint takeover from Verizon — the largest utilities deal in state history — was originally slated for August, then September, and then November (see "We Told You So," by Jeff Inglis, July 4). It still hasn't happened — maybe it will in January. But the move toward that transition, from the utter lack of scrutiny offered by Maine regulators (see "A Bad Idea Triumphs," by Jeff Inglis, February 29) to FairPoint's questionable financial assumptions (see "Will FairPoint Run Out of Money?" by Jeff Inglis, September 19) does not bode well for the company, or for Maine consumers.

Press Herald goes up for sale
As we predicted in 2006, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram went up for sale (see "Press Herald For Sale?" by Jeff Inglis, August 25, 2006), along with its sister daily newspapers, the Augusta-based Kennebec Journal and the Waterville-based Morning Sentinel, and some associated properties, like the Bath-based weekly Coastal Journal, and the MaineToday.com Web site.

The March announcement of the sale was both preceded and followed by repeated rounds of layoffs and "voluntary severances," as well as — after the sale was announced — wild speculation about who would buy the papers, how much they would pay, what they would do with the papers, and so on. We covered a ton of this stuff on the AboutTown blog (thePhoenix.com/AboutTown) and in various "Press Releases" columns throughout the year.

The prospective buyers are now known: the governor's brother, Bob Baldacci; former US senator and defense secretary Bill Cohen; his son Kevin, a former Turner Broadcasting executive; housing and real-estate developer Mike Liberty; and Pennsylvania newspaper publisher Richard Connor (who was born in Bangor). They have been racing the clock — and the crumbling financial markets — to secure financing before the end of this year, to allow the Blethens to use their losses on the sale of the Press Herald to offset their gains from the sale of two real-estate parcels in Seattle.

Final tidbits
And: Portland hearts Facebook...Buddy systems blossomed in response to an uptick in violent crime...Maine changed its identification requirements to comply with Real ID...The future of the former Adams School was debated and remains up in the air...Maine law students took on the RIAA...and lots of promising green stuff happened (see "Going Green," by Deirdre Fulton, page 6). Was 2008 a great year, or the greatest year? You decide.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com. Jeff Inglis contributed slightly to this report.

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