October 21, 2010

No damage after Phish

AUGUSTA -- Susan Ainslie never saw so many discarded balloons.

Balloons were strewn all over the grounds and parking lots of the Augusta Civic Center after Tuesday night's Phish concert.

Ainslie, a skilled laborer for the city's Public Works Department, helped with concert cleanup. Three crews were on the job at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

"I've never seen so many balloons in my life," Ainslie said as she loaded up a trailer with trash. "They were all different colors. There were even tie-dyed ones."

She said Phish fans were pretty good about throwing their trash into the more than five dozen 55-gallon receptacles brought over from the city's Bureau of Parks and Recreation. More than 6,000 Phish tickets were sold, according to the Civic Center.

Chris Blodgett, park foreman for the Bureau of Parks, Cemeteries and Trees, monitored a pair of motorized sweepers on the side parking lot where concert vendors were located.

"We've canvassed the area, and now we're cleaning the parking lots," Blodgett said. "There's some glass and trash and balloons and a lot of cigarette butts, which you can't pick up by hand."

Blodgett said the mess wasn't as bad as he had anticipated. Because Phish fans weren't as messy as some, he said it could mean more bands with huge followings coming to Augusta.

"If we can handle a concert like that with municipal cleanup, it opens a whole new genre of entertainment that can be put in that facility," he said.

Dana Colwill, director of the Civic Center, said preparing for the concert dominated his staff for six weeks.

"I wouldn't want to do this every week," Colwill said, "but the whole reason we did it was for the economic impact. That's why this building was built. The first thing after I found out there was a possibility, I called my boss, (city manager) Bill Bridgeo, and said, 'Do you want Phish in your city?' And he said, 'Why not? We're not just a country venue.' "

Leif Dahlin, director of community services for Augusta, commended Colwill for taking proactive steps and having enough trash receptacles at the city-owned auditorium.

Colwill also had all-terrain vehicles with wagons and staff picking up trash on the day of the concert, which Dahlin said helped with Wednesday's cleanup.

"I was just up there," Dahlin said, "and I've seen the day after Halloween worse than what we saw up there today. From what I can tell, they pulled off one heck of an event."

About 80 Jehovah's Witnesses converged on the Civic Center after the concert. They picked up trash, cleaned lobbies, floors, and the bathrooms.

"They work for us in trade for rental," Colwill said. "They do a couple of conventions here, and we bartered with them. They gave us manpower and we gave them space. They gave us a huge jump on this morning."

The band actually has a "green team" of 20 people who, after the concert, went through and picked up all the recyclables. Colwill said he rented a Dumpster for recyclables, along with two Dumpsters for trash.

The lingering smell of alcohol permeated the halls and main auditorium where Phish fans were allowed to dance without being harassed.

"That's dissipating a lot right now," Colwill said of the alcohol smell. "The ventilation's on. It's a residual effect, as far as the alcohol and smoke smell, unfortunately; but it's 50 percent better than what it was three hours ago. We've had all the doors open, so it will be fine for tomorrow."

Colwill said Maine School Superintendents met at the Civic Center on Wednesday, and the Maine School Management Association's fall conference is scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

He said there had been some concern about hosting a concert of this size so close to these two events.

Good planning made it possible.

"We have put more detail and time in this concert, more than anything else we've done in my 14 years here," Colwill said.

"It was incredible, the logistics and everything we had to do."

Colwill said Phish fans had a good time and enjoyed the show, and they were respectful of property.

"We've got some great positive feedback from people and our neighbors," he said.

"This was not a violent crowd. I can't find one bit of damage in this building; it was just messy."

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

mcooper@centralmaine.com

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