A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Over the past couple of months, Portland's Planning Board has received a slow but steady stream of significant development proposals.

The Cumberland Cold Storage warehouse on Portland's waterfront, currently used for self-storage with bricked-in windows, could soon become offices for a law firm (funded with a controversial tax break granted when the lawyers threatened to move across the river), along with ground-level space reserved (for the time being) for marine businesses.

On Congress Street, Avesta Housing is proposing to build a handsome apartment building that would contain 37 efficiency apartments, marketed towards single, creative-economy workers. The building would only have 8 parking spaces for cars (which is probably still too much for a site near half-vacant public garages and abundant bus services right around the corner), 8 spaces for scooters or motorcycles, and 24 sheltered bike racks on the ground floor, in addition to a residential lobby and art gallery space. The building would replace a 33-space parking lot with living space for 37 new downtown residents, most of whom will probably walk or use transit the majority of the time.

And, down on Franklin Street, the old Jordan's Meats factory has been cleared away to make room for a new six-story hotel, condo, and restaurant complex, which has been approved and is already under construction. The eastern half of the block will be a parking lot for the time being, but the site has been used only for leased parking for the past five years anyhow, and the project's developers seem keen to put build something else on the rest of the site soon.

Set aside for a moment questions about the wisdom of spending public subsidies on lawyers who pull six figures, and the mysteriousness of how the Jordan's Meats building burned and collapsed before the construction company had a chance to begin the expensive asbestos removal process (the Fire Marshall declined to investigate).

In the end, these new buildings will all add new jobs and residences to Portland's downtown neighborhoods, contribute to our city's walkable streets with quality architecture and active street-level facades, and convert empty lots and underutilized buildings into new engines for the local economy.

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