Pier proposal changes cause angst
Parking already a major issue
By Chris Busby
Mud isn’t the only thing shifting around the pilings of the Maine State Pier. As a City Council committee gets to work evaluating the two mega-projects proposed for the public facility, one team’s plan is changing while the other team cries foul and faces other changes that could challenge its plan’s success.
Since the proposals were formally submitted on Feb. 22, Ocean Properties has adjusted its plan. Most significantly, the 300-car parking garage originally placed at the foot of the pier, west of a proposed hotel and restaurant, has been moved to the east of the hotel.
The relocation of this garage means views of the bay from the Hilton Garden Inn across the street would not be blocked by a four-story parking structure. But though the Hilton is owned and operated by the competing team, The Olympia Companies, Olympia is far from pleased with the move.
The extent to which the proposals can be changed while the Council’s Community Development Committee (CDC) is evaluating them has become a matter of debate inside and outside the committee. Olympia believes the CDC should weigh the plans submitted in February, and has questioned the fairness and legality of allowing one team to make big adjustments at this stage.
Committee member Kevin Donoghue, whose district includes the pier, shares their concern. In fact, he’s vowed not to consider amended versions of either team’s plans. The new site plan showing the relocated garage “is not [Ocean Properties’] proposal; it’s part of the sale of their proposal,” he said. “Their proposal was handed in on February 22nd.”
The CDC may vote to recommend one of the proposals to the City Council in the next few months. But if the plans keep changing in the meantime, the timing of that vote becomes “an extremely political decision to make,” said Donoghue. Ocean Properties’ changes are “borderline abusive to the sense of fair play,” he said.
City Councilor Jim Cloutier, chairman of the three-member committee, is less concerned. He maintains that the formal Request for Proposals (or RFP) the city issued for the site last fall is what’s known as a “concept RFP” – a request for general redevelopment ideas, rather than concrete, immutable plans.
The Olympia team says it doesn’t intend to alter its proposal during the CDC process, but its plan to provide parking is already in flux.
Both teams are proposing huge office buildings and hotels, restaurants and retail on the marine industrial site. But unlike Ocean Properties, Olympia isn’t planning to build a parking garage on the waterfront property to serve this new development.
Instead, Olympia hopes to lease parking spaces in the Casco Bay Island Transit District (CBITD) Garage adjacent to the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal, and in the Ocean Gateway Garage expected to be under construction soon two blocks away, at India and Fore streets. The company has earmarked $13 million of its project’s $90 million-plus budget to acquire 440 parking spaces in the area.
The CBITD garage is half public, half private, and the private half just changed hands.
Mugar Enterprises, a Boston-based real estate development and management company, is buying the 215 spaces previously held by Maine real estate mogul Peter Quesada. The city has 204 spaces, but the public and privately held spaces are not delineated. “We run it as one garage,” said city parking division manager John Peverada.
A spokesman for Olympia said the company had not yet discussed parking arrangements with Mugar, which also owns the Custom House Garage several blocks away.
The CBITD garage is routinely filled to capacity, especially during the summer, when islanders and seasonal visitors compete with Old Port shoppers for the spaces. If Olympia was able to reserve a significant number of spaces there specifically for its project, the parking needs of those displaced by this arrangement would have to be satisfied elsewhere.
Ground hasn’t yet been broken to build the Ocean Gateway Garage, but its 720 spaces are filling up quickly with hypothetical vehicles.
This garage is part of the $100 million-plus Riverwalk project expected to rise just east of the Maine State Pier property. The garage is intended to serve users of the public Ocean Gateway cruise ship and ferry terminal now under construction, and to meet the needs of neighborhood residents, office workers and shoppers drawn to the area by Riverwalk’s waterfront condominiums, office building and retail shops.
As part of the property-tax deal given to Riverwalk to build the garage, the city has rights to lease over 300 spaces, said Peverada.
The development team planning a 180-room, extended-stay hotel next to Shipyard Brewing Company is also hoping to lease spaces in this garage – about 150, said Riverwalk developer Drew Swenson.
Swenson thinks both teams bidding to redevelop the Maine State Pier are low-balling their estimated parking needs. For example, Ocean Properties is proposing a 300-car garage, but Swenson believes it would take a 700-car garage to meet the demand.
Not that Swenson’s hoping they’ll make the one they’ve proposed even bigger. Swenson said he’s “disappointed” Ocean Properties has moved its garage to the east of the proposed hotel. “We’re building luxury condos,” he said. “Nobody wants to look at a parking garage.”
Indeed, as Swenson and others involved in planning the eastern waterfront point out, using waterfront land for parking is “the citizens’ number one nightmare.”
Perhaps the only thing more distasteful to the public than parking along the water’s edge is parking over the water, on the pier itself.
Ocean Properties is catching heat for its plan to pave an 80-car surface parking lot on the pier. Olympia officials have been dishing out this same criticism, even though their plan would pave 50 spaces on the pier, next to the six-story hotel they hope to build on it.
Olympia contends the hotel and surface parking area would technically be on “land,” because they intend to fill under the part of the pier beneath the hotel.
Ocean Properties principal Bob Baldacci maintains that his company’s proposed parking lot “is not a parking lot.”
“There’s limited parking” there for businesses Ocean Properties plans to put on the pier’s southern end, Baldacci conceded during the CDC’s March 20 meeting. But he stressed that the lot will also be used for festivals and other public events.
The company’s plans cite other possible uses for the pier-top parking lot. “Proposed parking could become future marine component (currently unanticipated) but vital to the city of Portland in the coming years,” reads a note on page 114 of Ocean Properties’ original proposal. Page 115 cites the same parcel as a “future opportunity for development.”
In recent presentations, Olympia’s representatives have raised the possibility of securing parking on the site of the shuttered Jordan’s Meats plant a block north of the waterfront. Plans to build a towering hotel, condo and retail project on the site fell apart last fall, just as city officials were relaxing zoning at the public pier to allow similar types of private development.
A spokesman for one of the site’s owners, the Rhode Island-based Procaccianti Group, told The Portland Forecaster last fall that the factory would be demolished to create additional surface parking while other development options, including the sale of the property, are explored.
A source on the Olympia team said Olympia has expressed interest in buying the Jordan’s property, which the Procaccianti partnership picked up for $6 million in the fall of 2005. Olympia spokesperson Sasha Cook said the company is also interested in other sites, but declined to elaborate.