Council rejects both Maine State Pier proposals
Megaberth throws monkey wrench in process
By Chris Busby
Sure enough, the prospect of building a so-called “megaberth” at the Ocean Gateway cruise ship terminal has thrown the future of the Maine State Pier on its head.
At last night’s meeting, the Portland City Council deadlocked 4-4 on separate orders to begin private negotiations with either Ocean Properties (OP) or The Olympia Companies for redevelopment of the public pier. Since neither proposal garnered a five-vote majority, action on the plans has been postponed indefinitely.
In the meantime, councilors will debate a host of issues raised by the possibility of adding a longer dock for cruise ships to Ocean Gateway, the publicly owned marine-passenger facility nearing completion just east of the Maine State Pier. Those discussions may lead to a thorough reexamination and reassessment of the city’s fundamental assumptions about the eastern waterfront’s future.
Some councilors and waterfront figures question the wisdom and feasibility of building a megaberth. But the question that threw a monkey wrench into last night’s deliberations was whether OP and Olympia should be asked to submit new plans that include a megaberth at Ocean Gateway and any changes to their proposals for the pier that result.
If such a berth were built next door, it’s expected that the Maine State Pier’s role as a dock for cruise ships would all but cease. Accordingly, both developers’ proposals for the pier might change substantially under that scenario, since both submitted designs based on continued cruise ship berthing there. Taking cruise ships off the site has major implications for the traffic, parking, security, architectural and financial plans the development teams have drafted thus far.
Mayor Nick Mavodones and Councilors Jim Cloutier, Donna Carr and Jill Duson all favored voting last night to enter closed-door negotiations with Ocean Properties, the politically connected development giant with a headquarters in New Hampshire. Councilors Cheryl Leeman and Dave Marshall voiced preference for Olympia’s proposal, but both also agreed with Councilors Ed Suslovic and Kevin Donoghue that the question of the megaberth should be addressed before either team’s offer is considered. (Councilor Jim Cohen has recused himself from this matter due to a professional conflict of interest.)
As The Bollard reported last month, the prospect of including Ocean Gateway in negotiations for the pier’s redevelopment has become a potentially explosive political issue. Rather than light that fuse last night, after two hours of often passionate debate, councilors essentially opted to put the issue on hold while they ponder their options.
One option mentioned last night is to craft a new Request for Proposals (RFP) that includes a megaberth at Ocean Gateway and plans for the Maine State Pier that take the megaberth into account. Other developers could respond to this new RFP – potentially beginning an entirely new selection process.
Another course of action, floated last night by Suslovic, would give Olympia and OP several more weeks to adjust their proposals to include a megaberth at Ocean Gateway and revised plans for the pier. That idea drew sharp protests from Carr and Duson.
Carr called it “preposterous… just grandstanding” to ask the development teams to make significant changes in so short a time period. Duson said it was “outrageously ridiculous” to request such substantive changes at this stage of the process, noting that the addition of Ocean Gateway and a megaberth “trashes” the financial plans the teams have put together so far.
Cloutier said that at the very least, the Council should hold a public hearing before it considers changing the scope of the RFP.
Both developers have previously expressed interest in operating Ocean Gateway and building a megaberth there, and they reiterated that interest last night. But as Cloutier observed, the public – especially the dozens of citizens who directly participated in the planning of Ocean Gateway over the years – would be “astonished” to suddenly be informed that it’s on the table as part of closed-door negotiations for the Maine State Pier.
When Suslovic suggested that possibility in an interview with The Bollard last month, he elicited a strong reaction from Donoghue, who said his colleague had “drunk the fuckin’ Kool-Aid.”
However, Suslovic stressed last night that discussion of including Ocean Gateway in a pier deal should be done “out in the open,” before a developer is selected, not “behind closed doors,” after negotiations have begun.