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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Huge transit-oriented development proposal for Thompson's Point




The Press Herald is reporting on a major new development proposal for Thompson's Point, a small peninsula on the Fore River that's adjacent to Portland's train station and Concord Coach bus terminal. The concept calls for a major events arena that would host the city's D-league basketball team, a large music venue, and a convention center, in addition to two mid-rise office buildings on the end of the peninsula, a large parking garage, and a hotel.


All this would be located within easy walking distance of the Portland Transportation Center, which offers hourly buses to downtown Boston and Logan Airport, in addition to five daily round trips to Boston's North Station via the Amtrak Downeaster. The convention and hotel elements of this development proposal are obviously trying to capitalize on the site's easy connections to the larger city to our south. This is a major transit-oriented development proposal.

The developers also claim that they have investors lined up and that the project would be privately financed - which is impressive, given how many convention centers and sports arena proposals ask for government handouts in other cities. And it looks like a nice waterfront esplanade would also be included around the edge of the site - hopefully this will be a truly public space, and not a private garden with "no trespassing" signs.

My one regret is that the developers aren't planning to rehab the old brick warehouse building on the site - that building in its own right could have been a really awesome music venue, and added some historic authenticity to a development that runs the risk of feeling like a sterile office park. I'll hold out some hope that the developers and architects think of a creative way to save it, but even if they can't, the overall merits of building so much right next to a major transit hub outweigh that quibble, in my mind.

This project's announcement also comes close on the heels of another convention center proposal from the Shipyard Brewery's owner. The fact that two developers independently are proposing convention centers for Portland speaks to the city's potential to attract more business travellers and events. The Shipyard proposal wouldn't have the direct connection to an intercity transit terminal, but its location within walking distance of downtown's businesses and restaurants, might mean that it could have a stronger positive impact on the local economy.

But that proposal may well be moot: the Thompson Point concept looks more polished, and if they're telling the truth about their financing, it looks like this one's more likely to get built.

Which means that, if Portland wants other downtown businesses to be able to capitalize on its promising convention business, it needs to start planning more robust and reliable bus transit connections between Thompson's Point and the rest of the city.

I'll wait to see more details before I make an outright endorsement, but this looks like a very promising concept, as well as a strong vote of confidence in transit-oriented development sites.

5 comments:

my architect said...

What about the plans to have a train station in the old port, making use of the existing spur? I may be mistaken but haven't you in the past talked about Portland's transportation center should never have been built this far away from downtown?
If we start building new attractions around poorly situated infrastructure does it add merit to that infrastructure?
Just like the people that add additions to their homes because it is easier than working on the existing layout, this just seems wasteful to me - maybe its just the lesser of two evils?

Christian MilNeil said...

Personally, I don't think that the current station location is all that bad. I have spoken up before about how ridiculous it is that there are no sidewalks leading to it, but the city is in the process of fixing that.

Moving the station would cost tens of millions of dollars, and I'd personally rather spend our scarce transit dollars on something more worthwhile. Plus, if the station moved downtown, then the management would also want to build yet another parking garage to go with it. That would add tens of millions of dollars more to the price tag - and bringing suburban cars into the Old Port so that their passengers can get to Boston doesn't make much sense.

Libbytown used to be a walkable neighborhood. With proposals like this one, it could recover that legacy, or even begin to feel like an extension of downtown - especially with buses and trains coming and going every hour to Boston and Brunswick, and the plans in the works to decommission some of the freeway ramps in the area, and the continuing growth of the two hospitals in the neighborhood.

The city's also been talking about implementing "circulator" buses between the PTC and downtown districts, running every 10-15 minutes 20 hours a day. A convention center next to the PTC would be a strong impetus to make that happen sooner.

Taking all that into consideration, I think that this would be a great step forward for Libbytown.

EthanV said...

I was excited when I saw it on the news. Every time I drive by Thompson's Point I always see its great potential and ever wondered if someone would do something cool with it... I would if I could. That said though, I saw great potential in the existing buildings like you said, and so was disappointed when they were not included in the plans. I understand coming from a spacial point of view, but my strong beliefs in Adaptive reuse and Historic Rehabilitation make me see it differently. I hope that they had really considered it, but may have found the buildings to be to restricting or to out of shape to use from a financial perspective. I guess in the end though I would rather see the point brought back to life with this project, then to sit in its current condition.

C Neal said...

^Agreed, Ethan. The two large brick warehouse buildings in the center of the peninsula - and especially the one closer to the freeway, with a celestory - could serve as amazing convention spaces or music venues in their own right. I do think that the proposal is weaker by spending money to tear down those great resources, instead of reusing them.

Turboglacier said...

Every time I cross the river on 295 and see that old brick warehouse, I think what a cool place to live that would be.

Also, in case anyone with power is reading, the Transpo Center should create some scooter parking (preferably free) (or at least cheaper than cars). Have a look how popular it is downtown. Would free up a lot of car parking!