Public pushes for more input on pier deal
Dissatisfied with the amount of public participation as city officials pursue a private developer’s plan for the publicly owned Maine State Pier, a Portland man is lobbying city councilors and organizing citizens to push for more input and a reconsideration of the city’s goals for the eastern waterfront.
Matt Isgro, 26, only recently began following the pier saga, and said he is not beholden to either private development plan presented to the city so far. “What I want is for the public to be placed in the central decision-making role” as the pier’s future is determined, he said.
Toward that end, Isgro recently set up a Web site, StatePierForME.ning.com, as a forum for public discussion of the pier. He’s met with several councilors so far, and plans to speak with college students and community groups to rally grassroots support for greater public involvement.
In a letter e-mailed to councilors earlier this month, Isgro wrote that it’s “highly necessary” for the city to undertake a “large-scale rethinking of the Pier and Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.” That process should “[focus] on how this public land can solve the problems our poorest citizens face directly, not through the filter of private business tax revenue and meager, underachieving employment opportunities (retail, restaurants, etc.).”
The latest pier plan submitted by Ocean Properties, a politically connected company based in New Hampshire, calls for restaurants, a fish and produce market, a hotel and an office building atop and adjacent to the Maine State Pier, in addition to parking garages and marine tourism infrastructure. The Council is expected to vote to begin negotiations with OP next week.
In his letter to councilors, Isgro also urged Councilor Dory Waxman to recuse herself from votes involving the pier, given her past work promoting OP’s pier plan and the fact she accepted a significant amount of money from the company and its supporters during her campaign last fall. Waxman has refused to do so, maintaining that her past employment promoting OP’s plan will not affect her judgment as councilors consider a deal to make that plan happen.
City officials have outlined a six-to-eight-week “public participation process” that could take place in conjunction with negotiations with OP, but Isgo and others think that process is too little, too late. For example, the public’s input would be limited to tweaking aspects of OP’s design, not making major changes to its plan.
City Councilor John Anton met with Isgro this past week and was impressed by his initiative, but doubts it will have much of an impact. He said “the jury’s out” on the public participation process suggested to coincide with talks with OP.
“If it’s window dressing, I’m going to be very disappointed, and I just don’t know how it’s gonna play out,” Anton said.
Isgro, who sold a painting company last fall and is currently looking for work, said he won’t be surprised if the city rebuffs his attempt to put the public in the driver’s seat. “I know I’m going to be told that’s not possible,” he said, but added, “I think there are creative solutions to the pier.”
— Chris Busby