THE BEAUTY IS WITHIN Behind this door, many of Portland’s best bands practice — for now. The junk’s out back (below).
Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Such is the case with Portland's already beleaguered bands in search of affordable and accommodating practice space. Prime Artist Studios, Portland's only true commercial practice-space operation, will shutter this summer, falling victim to the Thompson's Point redevelopment project known as the Forefront.
Elf Princess Gets a Harley, Huak, the Outfits, Stories Told, Ruin, Hoboe, the Other Bones — as just a sample of the affected bands — all must now find another place to not only store their gear, but also write their songs and practice them at full volume.
Sound familiar? I wrote a similar story, begun in a similar way, almost exactly 11 years ago upon the closing of a space known as Joe's Garage, which was located at 1111 Forest Avenue, and left bands like 6gig, Swampwitch Revival, and the inimitable Eggbot out on the street. (See "Portland Loses A Practice Space," by Sam Pfeifle, April 26, 2001.)
Things were bad then, they never got better, and they will be worse come August.
"What I've heard so far is that they think they'll probably sign papers in August," says Sean Emmons, Prime's owner since he bought it from Jeff Davison back in 2003/2004. "I just attended a meeting with my people this past week [his realtors, Fishman Realty]. And as long as we're able to keep up with the rent, we can be there until such time as they pull the plug. Through July or maybe August at this point." The building is actually owned by Thompson's Point, Inc., owned by the heirs of Massachusetts real-estate developer Peter Van Wyck.
While that is a little bit of time to lay plans for a new location, Emmons has looked at the options and doesn't like what he sees. "I don't have any way to generate the capital to open up a new building," he says, matter of factly. "The building out is labor intensive and expensive."
Because of a long-standing lease that goes back into the 1990s, Emmons pays just $1400 a month for space that accommodates about a dozen individual rooms, which serve as many as 20 bands between monthly and hourly renters. It's unlikely, to say the least, that Emmons will find similarly priced space here in 2012, even with the current market.
"And," he notes, "it's hard to find space that's zoned well." He notes that the current crop of spaces, a haphazard collection mostly out by Woodford's Corner (bands aren't psyched when you identify their practice spaces), even that old Joe's Garage space, aren't in locations where you can really make a ruckus. "You can't be making noise after 10 pm," Emmons says. "You get one complaint and you're up shit's creek."
That has always been the beauty of Prime, which has virtually no neighbors. "A lot of our bands don't even show up until 8 or 9 or even 2 in the morning," Emmons says. "I have no idea where my band goes next."
Yes, like Davison before him with Big Chief (they played at my wedding, actually — and Emmons's, too, for that matter), Emmons plays in a band. In his case it is the heavy rock band Armstrong, not exactly the kind of band that can practice in the living room of a residential neighborhood. That was at least part of the allure of owning Prime in the first place. It certainly wasn't a business-savvy move.