Was is all just a crazy dream, a three-year hallucination about redeveloping the Maine State Pier?
Does the governor’s brother really have a head of thick, beautiful hair? After mocking and trashing his pier plan in print, did I actually meet and make peace with George Mitchell in a room behind Merrill Auditorium? And was the city really ready to let Mitchell and Ocean Properties turn our pier into a strange, sloping structure covered in grass and solar panels added on the advice of paid green-development consultant John Eder?
If only it was a dream, but alas, it was all real: the political gamesmanship, slick presentations, and promises made and broken until there was nothing left to promise or break. No more Mitchell, no Eder, no Dennis Bailey and Kevin Mahaney exchanging unpleasantries outside Council Chambers. Just Harold Pachois, glumly trying to explain that having finally gotten the chance to build its mega-project, Ocean Properties had to bow out because…
Well, apparently business is too good these days.
Yeah, the world economy is circling the toilet bowl, but Ocean Properties is so busy building luxury hotels and resorts that they don’t have the “human resources” to commit to the pier. All the architects and construction workers who’d normally be available are apparently booked.
That makes sense — about as much sense as the entire Maine State Pier saga that preceded it. Which is to say, that’s nonsense.
We can’t get back all the precious time and public money spent on this fiasco, but at least we get to keep our pier.
City Manager Joe Gray is expected to give the City Council a list of options for the pier’s future this month. Let’s hope asking private developers to fix the property for us in exchange for the right to turn it into a futuristic playground for tourists isn’t among them.
The first step in determining what to do with the pier is determining what to do with the pier next to it: Ocean Gateway, the publicly owned marine passenger facility the city almost finished building last year. Ocean Gateway lacks a dock large enough to handle most cruise ships, but building a so-called “megaberth” there was always part of the plan. There’s now a good chance federal funds will be available to complete the project, making it unnecessary to berth cruise ships at the Maine State Pier next year.
Granted, it’s not necessary to berth cruise ships here at all; passengers can be “tendered” in by boat, like Ocean Properties routinely does in Bar Harbor. The point is that the Maine State Pier’s function changes considerably when you take cruise ships out of the equation. The cost and extent of the repairs needed at the pier decrease substantially when you no longer need it to handle the strain of docking a 100,000-ton floating town. And the need for costly security infrastructure that makes an entire side of the pier off-limits to the public during the summer simply vanishes.
The next indispensable step is to involve the public in an open, though not open-ended, process with the goal of creating a new vision for the pier that serves our needs.
In all seriousness, we think the satiric pier plan published in our Fall 2007 issue, The Bollard Boardwalk, is a good starting point. Less can be more. An open pier uncluttered by commercial development is an attraction unto itself, a destination for great waterfront views and events that bring people — and economic activity — to Portland. This approach also slashes repair costs: the pier wouldn’t have to support giant boats and multi-story buildings, just strollers and, on occasion, a couple thousand people dancing to their favorite band. (Oh, and a dozen kegs of local beer.)
That’s a dream worth having.
— Chris Busby