South Portland’s Ferry Village neighborhood is the epitome of the term working waterfront.
Its name harkens back to the time a century ago when boats carried commuters between this end of South Portland and downtown Portland. Ferry Village was the birthplace of hundreds of Liberty Ships, the cargo vessels that helped us win World War II. These days, oil tankers tie up and disgorge crude into the nearby tanks, and the Coast Guard keeps a base here. Hungry diners descend to sup on local seafood at the Saltwater Grill.
And then there’s Aspasia Marina.
The marina isn’t much to look at these days, just a weather-beaten assemblage of buildings, a couple of which are sagging and aren’t good candidates to survive the next nor’easter. But it does have history.
According to Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s director of planning and development, this was the site of the South Portland Marine Railway way back in the day. Boats were hauled out onto the tracks to be maintained and repaired on land. It was a “somewhat important facility for hauling out the larger boats,” and likely the only one in the harbor, Haeuser said.
Paul Leddy — owner and president of Leddy Houser Associates, a general contracting company based in South Portland — has big plans for the Aspasia Marina property. In addition to refurbishing the boat lift and marina facilities, Leddy has visions of adding a hotel, a restaurant, a museum and a ship chandlery to the site. The hotel would have two towers as high as six or seven stories, linked by a glass walkway between two upper floors, so boats can pass between them.
“To continue as a working waterfront marina, you have to be able to drive between the two buildings,” said Leddy.
These plans remain in a very preliminary stage because Leddy still faces two big obstacles. One, of course, is the ongoing economic crisis. The other is apparently George Drivas.
Leddy said Drivas, the marina’s owner, is still unconvinced his vision is viable. “I don’t believe he felt [the marina] was worthy of restoration,” Leddy said.
My efforts to reach Drivas were unsuccessful. When I called the marina’s office, a woman curtly informed me that Drivas is in California for the winter and is not taking calls. I left a message, but I guess he’s not returning calls this winter, either.
Don’t hold your breath for the marina to be reborn anytime soon. “I can’t even begin to think about that,” Leddy said, pondering the extent of the recession. “Maybe five years?”
Meanwhile, neighbors like Ferry Village Neighborhood Conservation Association President David Jacobs watch and wait. “The neighborhood would clearly love to see the site refurbished,” he said.
— Patrick Banks