BACK ATCHA - Alehouse sues Cianchette

The Alehouse has sued Eric Cianchette's company, ELC Inc., alleging that Cianchette, the Portland bar's landlord, is trying to force them out of their space by failing to perform structural improvements required by the state fire marshal.

One of Cianchette's properties, the Portland Regency Hotel, sued the Alehouse and its owners, Russ and AJ Riseman, in late 2005, alleging that noise from the Alehouse was disturbing hotel guests and costing the hotel money. (See "Good Soundbreaks Make..." by Jeff Inglis, January 20.)

UPDATED: Eric Cianchette and his attorneys, David Perkins and Gerald May of Perkins Olson, did not respond to several requests for comment. Should they return the phone messages, their comments will be added at that time.

A written statement from the Alehouse's lawyer, Daniel Skolnik, says the Alehouse was told on February 9 by the fire marshal that because the bar's gathering space is below the level of the entrance to the club, the entire building must have sprinklers installed. The Alehouse was also told that the main exit door (which is also the main entrance door) must be set to open outward, and to have what Skolnik called in an interview "panic hardware" installed - a bar that can simultaneously unlock and unlatch the door, allowing even a locked door to open when pushed from the inside.

That, Skolnik said, conflicts with Portland's building code, which forbids a door to open outward directly onto a sidewalk, meaning the bar's door entrance must be "recessed" back into the building, so the outward-opening door does not cover a portion of the sidewalk.

Those types of structural modifications are the responsibility of the landlord under the lease, Skolnik said, adding that the Alehouse told ELC about the requirements after receiving them from the fire marshal. Cianchette's company's failure to perform the renovations puts the Alehouse's ability to operate in jeopardy, Skolnik said: If the renovations are not done, the fire marshal's office can seek a court order shutting down the Alehouse, rendering the Risemans unable to pay the rent, leaving them vulnerable to eviction for non-payment.

"They're pushing us out," Skolnik said. "You can't install a sprinkler system without doing structural work," particularly since none of the sprinkler companies Russ Riseman contacted would give him an estimate for anything but the entire building, of which he leases only a part. Skolnik declined to give the amounts of those estimates, but confirmed they were in the range of tens of thousands of dollars, an amount the Risemans cannot afford.

The lawsuit is the latest phase of an ongoing dispute that included a 2001 lawsuit by ELC against the Alehouse, on similar grounds as the Portland Regency Hotel's 2005 lawsuit. The 2001 case was judged in favor of the Alehouse, and was upheld on appeal.

The 2005 case is ongoing, though Skolnik's written statement about his own filing says "the Regency has twice been on the verge of withdrawing its lawsuit, only to mysteriously reverse itself." On March 2, the two parties in that case - the hotel, represented by the same law firm and attorneys at the firm as serve as ELC's corporate attorney, and the Alehouse, represented by Skolnik - had a mediation session, which Skolnik declined to discuss in detail.

He said the meeting ended "with a pathway to settlement of the suit," in which the hotel and the bar would "formalize our understanding" of the soundproofing the Alehouse had done and how effective it was. Skolnik said he had drafted such an agreement and had given it to the hotel's attorneys, and had heard a reply - he would not say what it was - and said the suit had not yet been dropped.

The Alehouse has installed additional soundproofing at the demand of the fire marshal, who noted that the previous soundproofing was combustible, Skolnik said. The new soundproofing is fire-safe and is five times as effective at deadening sound, Skolnik said.

Should a settlement deal fail, "we are very excited about taking this to trial, because we will win," Skolnik said.

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