Council to move forward with Ocean Properties’ pier plan




Cruisin' and trippin': Ocean Properties' plan for the Maine State Pier. (image/courtesy OP)

Council to move forward with Ocean Properties’ pier plan
Waxman refuses to recuse herself

By Chris Busby 

At an informal workshop session this evening, the Portland City Council agreed to pursue negotiations with Ocean Properties to redevelop the Maine State Pier. Mayor Jill Duson said an order to formally initiate the talks will be placed on the Council’s agenda next month.

Newly elected Councilor Dory Waxman attended the workshop and nervously read a brief statement acknowledging her past work for Ocean Properties promoting its plan for the pier. “I don’t have a conflict of interest,” she said, adding that she thinks it’s in the best interest of the city for her to participate in the pier redevelopment process. She made no further comments during the workshop, and no other councilors commented on her participation.

Prior to the start of negotiations, a “public participation process” is envisioned to take place over the course of six-to-eight weeks. The first meeting would be a lecture on the history of the pier, policies governing its use, and Ocean Properties’ plan. Members of the public who attend that lecture can register to participate in a second meeting — a half-day session the following weekend — during which participants will discuss the project’s design with city staff and the developer’s representatives. Based on a summary of that meeting, Ocean Properties would then develop additional sketches for the project and present them to the public.

Among the elements still to be determined is whether a megaberth — a large dock capable of handling cruise ships — will be built at Ocean Gateway as part of the Maine State Pier project. It was clear from tonight’s workshop that councilors are still confused and divided over how, or whether, a megaberth should be constructed at the publicly owned marine passenger terminal just east of the Maine State Pier.

After defending the process thus far as a public one, Duson said she is “comfortable” having the megaberth discussion be part of closed-door negotiations between the city and Ocean Properties (OP). The starting point for those discussions would be the last of several project designs OP submitted last year for the pier — designs that include a megaberth at Ocean Gateway.

Attorney Harold Pachios, who is representing OP, said he does not know whether the company is still committed to building the megaberth or not.

In addition to the megaberth, OP’s latest plan included a 200-room luxury hotel and an office building that would be built on city-owned land at the base of the pier. An underground parking garage capable of holding 318 vehicles would be constructed beneath those buildings. Next to the hotel would be a public park modeled after the one envisioned by the Olympia Companies, the rival developer that was unable to come to terms with the city during negotiations earlier this year.

On the pier itself, OP envisions a futuristic, two-acre “roofscape” of grass and trees with an acre of photovoltaic cells to capture solar energy. Beneath this sci-fi park, the developer intends to build a seafood restaurant, a fish and produce “coop” market, a cruise ship terminal, a new freight shed for Casco Bay Lines, and a 99-car parking garage, in addition to various office and marine operational facilities.

City Manager Joe Gray recommended that councilors pursue this deal after meeting in private with the developer’s representatives a week or so ago. In making his recommendation, Gray stressed the project’s potential to create jobs and provide money to city government at a time of declining revenues due to the current recession. “The Council has this opportunity to use the few tools available to it to generate necessary revenues,” Gray wrote.

The amount of any lease and property tax revenues from such a project are yet to be determined, but it will surely be sometime in the early-to-mid part of the next decade before the project could be fully designed, permitted and constructed.    


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