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

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Ten years after the City published its "New Vision for Bayside," and three years after the financial collapse scuttled a competitive slate of development proposals for the neighborhood, the empty, city-owned lots along Kennebec Street finally have a new owner.

The Federated Cos. now own five separate building lots between Somerset Street and the Bayside Trail. Details are still in the works, but city planners have verbally described plans to build mixed-use buildings and (in the first phase of development) a 500-car parking garage subsidized by the city and federal governments.

The Federated Cos. website shows a portfolio of mostly architecturally bland apartment complexes (although a planned reuse of a historic mill site in Worcester looks like a more interesting and creative project) and only a limited focus on retail and office development.

Still, even a vanilla mid-rise apartment building would be an improvement for lower Bayside, where there's already an abundance of retail services and office space, and not that many apartments. Adding a lot of housing to these blocks will add a lot of housing within easy walking distance of three big supermarkets, a pharmacy, the trail, and downtown Portland's jobs. And even the blandest architecture is better than an empty, trash-strewn lot.

The city has built incentives into the sale agreement to make sure that Federated actually builds something instead of just land banking the property: " Federated would have six months to get permits and approvals for its development plans, or pay $3,000 each for up to three 30-day extensions," according to the Press Herald, and City Hall will also have the right to buy back the property at the same price if nothing happens within 2 years of site plan approval.

Photo of the Elm Street sidewalk near Marginal Way by Corey Templeton, from his Walk Around Portland blog. This is at the western end of the newly-sold property, and the only way to get to Trader Joe's, due to landlord Peter Quesada's spite fence.

While the fast-track provisions are designed to make Bayside more of a neighborhood, I'm also a little concerned that the city's anxiousness to build something will come at the sacrifice of getting a better project for the long term. Also, there's the fact that infrastructure in the neighborhood doesn't match the city's ambitions for a walkable, transit-oriented district: bus routes haven't been adjusted or expanded (even though thousands of new workers and residents have arrived in recent years), sidewalks are broken and discontinuous (see image at right), and the Bayside Trail, while nice, is not particularly useful as a transportation connection (thanks to bad design and idiot landlords like Peter Quesada, who erects chain-link fences in order to inconvenience his tenants' customers).

In an ideal world, the Federated Cos. would realize that they could reduce their parking costs and add value to their own project by making small improvements to the streets and sidewalks adjacent to their property, and thinking creatively about the empty and under-utilized spaces in the surrounding blocks. I have some ideas on that score that I'll write about here soon...


will said...

Agreed-- that style of architecture is called "boston generic," (look west riding the downeaster into boston sometime...) We'd obviously need to put up a couple more starbucks, and setup dedicated netflix return boxes in the area, once it is finished.

Why not put up a spatula factory instead?

Ari said...

I was in Trader Joes today and commented on the "spite fence." I am going to wage an all-out war (of words) against Peter Quesada. Did you realize he's an advisory trustee to the Maine Audubon Society? Perhaps they should get a nice letter about how he hates good things.