The Bollard Boardwalk

Dear Mayor Mavodones and Portland City Councilors, 

On behalf of The Bollard, it gives me great pleasure to present you with this exciting new vision for the future of our Maine State Pier: The Bollard Boardwalk.

We realize the deadline to submit proposals for the pier passed last February, as has the June deadline for Ocean Properties to stop copying The Olympia Companies’ design. We especially regret having missed all the opportunities to trash these competing proposals in public. This introduction will have to suffice.

Most of what Olympia and Opie propose to build down there—hotels, office buildings, fancy restaurants, a new freight shed for the mayor’s employer—is either unwanted, unnecessary, impractical, illegal, or some combination thereof. 

The traffic and parking “plans” for these mega-projects are, take your pick: a.) incomplete, b.) insane, c.) insensitive to the needs of our valued island neighbors. 

Had we known last fall that we could’ve submitted something as half-baked and impractical as these proposals and not been laughed out of City Hall, you’d have seen The Bollard Boardwalk last February. By now, your negotiation team would be behind closed doors arm wrestling us for air rights. 

Before we tell you all about The Bollard Boardwalk, allow us to bore you with the story of our unique approach to creating this signature design. 

The Vision Quest 

Our development team includesBollard art directors Mich Ouellette and Sean Wilkinson, both of whom were born in Maine and currently live in Portland. That technically makes them more local than the heads of either Opie or Olympia, whose teams have spent half their presentation time at city meetings trying to out-local each other. How foolish. Everyone knows this isn’t about provincialism. It’s all about politics. 

To burnish our political credentials, we also brought aboard an esteemed ex-elected official who is familiar (thanks to the pushy reporters at WGME) to all of Maine: former Portland School Committee member Jason Toothaker. (Citing her ongoing work in Washington, Olympia Snowe turned us down, and we learned that the only guy who can top George Mitchell, Sen. Edmund Muskie, passed away last decade.)

The other night I convened a “visioning” session to get public input on our plan. The “public” was our buddy Billy, a Portlander who spends a lot of free time fishing off the Maine State Pier. We stocked the mini-fridge at Mich’s place with PBR and got down to business. 

The Bollard Pier Development Team (from left): Sean, Mich, Chris, Jason and Billy. (photo/Nathan Eldridge)
The Bollard Pier Development Team (from left): Sean, Mich, Chris, Jason and Billy. (photo/Nathan Eldridge)

During this vision quest, we soon came to appreciate the drool-inducing greed—um, make that the strong commitment to provide Portland with a world-class pier project—that guided the other two development teams’ plans. The millionaire and billionaire behind Olympia and Opie, respectively, quite naturally came up with projects reflective of the cork-wine-and-salad-fork world they inhabit: posh hotels and office suites, swanky restaurants and luxury liners, secret subterranean parking lairs, etc. 

We’re no less greedy—just much, much poorer. Billy had polled the other fishermen on the pier, asking them what they wanted down there, and the top two responses were “fish” and “beer.” So we drew in a seasonal clam shack, a taproom/seafood restaurant open year-round, and left the rest of the pier open, save for a small stage at the end for concerts, like the Black Crowes show we saw there in August—which, by the way, kicked ass! 

Anyway, we too ripped off the grassy park Olympia put at the foot of the pier, but at least we’re admitting it. Opie didn’t. And Olympia never admitted that the only reason they put the park there in the first place was to preserve water views at the psychedelic Hilton Garden Inn they own diagonally across the street. 


The Bollard Boardwalk

So, our proposal is pretty simple. 

Basically, tear down that big blue shed with the dopey whales painted on it, then nail down a long boardwalk made from the tallest and mightiest timbers still standing in the Pine Tree State (or western Canada—whatever’s cheaper). 

Oh, and more bollards—lots of bollards. We’ll need both kinds: bollards big boats can tie up to, and traffic bollards to keep tourists and terrorists from driving on the boardwalk. 

These bollards aren’t just a symbol of our commitment to preserve the pier’s deep-water berth and enhance pedestrian access. They’re actually doing just that, and for considerably less than the $100 million of private development Opie and Olympia are pitching.

At Compass Park Clam Shack, you can order to go or have the fish you just caught gutted and fried
while you wait. 

All 50 taps in the taproom exclusively pour drafts of Maine beers, and the restaurant only serves seafood landed or harvested in Maine. As with Olympia’s and Opie’s pier-top restaurants, this is our scheme to get around the state law that requires at least half of the ground floor of new buildings on the pier to be “marine-related.” (Watery beer doesn’t count.) 

To skirt state regulations this way, it helps to have a close relative in the governor’s office. Lacking such ties, we propose to hire Gov. John Baldacci when his term ends in 2010. He does have restaurant experience, so we’ll put him in the kitchen. That way, when tourists from the Bay State get their orders, he can both figuratively and literally stand around while Maine’s fishing industry goes to Massachusetts.

illustration/Martin Shields
illustration/Martin Shields

By now you’re probably wondering: What about all the cruise ships? After all, the reason you wanted the pier fixed in the first place is so it’ll be strong enough to dock floating hotels full of seniors on their way to Freeport. 

Though you seem to have forgotten it in the rush to sell off our public pier, there’s a huge cruise ship terminal nearing completion right next door. It’s called Ocean Gateway. The city’s own waterfront director, Capt. Jeff Monroe, told you it makes a lot more sense to spend $6 million to build a longer dock at Ocean Gateway than to operate a second seasonal cruise port at the already congested Maine State Pier. 

Opie and Olympia actually agree with him, and we do, too. We threw in a customs hut to process passengers on those rare days when two huge cruise ships are in port. The other 364 days a year, this secure facility, with its Mayberry-style holding cell, can be put to better use detaining and interrogating brawlers at Bill’s Pizza, drunk college kids coming back from Reggae Sunday, and wharf cats suspected of being rabid. 

illustration/Martin Shields
illustration/Martin Shields


Our financial offer

Your other burning question by now is surely: How do you expect to pay for all this stuff? Don’t sweat it—we got credit. Bollard Publishing was recently approved for an American Express card, and the Indian woman who processed our application said it has no limit. So, let’s compare financial capacity to get this project done.

Olympia: Can borrow tens of millions of dollars from a bank. Opie: Proposes to front $100 million to guarantee their project’s completion. The Bollard: Has access to an infinite amount of cash with a simple signature. Do the math—which is larger: one hundred million dollars or infinity dollars?  

Actually, this is all beside the point. Your decision shouldn’t be about money, either. Like I said before, this is all about politics. 

Less than a year since you tested the waters to see what “concepts” the private sector could come up with to fix our pier for us, half of you are ready to hop in the yacht of the first fat cat who promises to take you whale watching. What you need is the political will to turn down fast cash and big promises that really promise to do more harm than good to our enjoyment and use of the pier for the rest of this century.  

It’s a political decision to slow down and first figure out how the Maine State Pier fits in with the rest of the waterfront (or, at the very least, Ocean Gateway). You’ve hardly discussed this at all, much less given the public a meaningful opportunity to tell you what we want down there. We suspect that’s because the top answers would not be “another luxury hotel our friends and relatives can’t afford to stay in,” “waterfront office space we’ll never set foot in,” or “another parking garage.”  

Sure, you may have to devote some small fraction of the annual city budget over the coming years to improving our old pier. But most of you act like Portland is destitute and its waterfront a wasteland, when in fact there’s an enormous private development boom underway down there right now. The revenues to come from projects already in progress within blocks of the pier would more than cover the cost of the shed’s demolition, new pilings and bollards.

As The Gipper would say: Mr. Mayor, tear down this shed! Let the people enjoy unobstructed views of Casco Bay from our 1,000-foot pier for the first time in 75 years. Grant us the freedom to waste time down there without the hassles of Homeland Security.  Trust in us, not the fickle cruise ship industry. They can’t even book good bands.



Chris Busby

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