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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Maritime Landing" reaches for the sky (by standing on the shoulders of giant parking garages)



Patrick Venne, author of the Mainely Urban blog, has uncovered a new commercial sales brochure for "Maritime Landing," a proposed development for the Federated Companies' newly-acquired land in Bayside. The brochure includes the above image of a dense block of high-rises along the new Bayside Trail, stretching from Elm Street to a future extension of Pearl Street.

It also includes this breakdown of what Federated hopes to build there:

  • 96,000 square feet of retail space
  • 80,000 square feet of office space
  • 540 units of housing
  • 1,100 parking spaces
To put some of these numbers in context: the Back Bay Tower on Cumberland Avenue contains 116 units of housing; the new Custom House office building on Fore Street contains 60,000 square feet of offices; the new Whole Foods is about 50,000 square feet of retail space; the taxpayer-subsidized Ocean Gateway parking garage on the corner of Fore and Hancock Streets contains 700 parking spaces.

It's hard to imagine four buildings of those sizes sitting together on these two blocks in Bayside - but Federated is saying that they plan to build even bigger: the equivalent of 2 Whole Foods stores, plus five Back Bay Towers, plus one and a half Custom House office buildings and Ocean Gateway garages. If they're for real, then most of Federated's Bayside land holdings would be given over to 5- to 10-story buildings.

It would be fantastic to have 500 new households living in Bayside. And great to have additional spaces for businesses to conduct commerce and provide services to central-city residents.

But does the neighborhood really need 1,100 new parking spaces - and 1,100 new automobiles clogging its streets?

With the mix of uses proposed, Federated could, in theory, be able to manage parking more smartly, such that office workers use the same parking spaces during the daytime that residents and retail customers use on nights and weekends.

The city, for better or for worse, has already agreed to finance a 500-car garage on the site, and that could probably be sufficient, even for the amount of office and residential space that Federated is proposing. Looking at the city's sunken subsidies for the half-empty Ocean Gateway garage, I have my doubts whether Federated could possibly find that many cars to fill its garage - especially given the amount of parking that already exists in Bayside.

Building 600 additional parking spaces on the site is going to be expensive for Federated: at a cost of $20,000 per space, building 600 extra spaces amounts to $10 million in additional development costs.

Alternatively, $10 million, matched with federal and state funds, could also build a streetcar line running from the USM campus to the Old Port, and running right past the front doors of Federated's new high-rises.

Isn't it possible that that might be a better investment?

8 comments:

Patrick Venne said...

I think the parking issue is an important one, and you are right that in an ideal world we would have the streetcar system re-instituted, even if a truncated route, to better serve pedestrian needs and urbanism. However, I think the problem is in getting the various heads talking together. That would be an extensive public process, with so many stakeholders involved that before it became viable the current developer might very well lose interest. The trick, then, is to put a system like that in place BEFORE there is an active development proposal, and hope that (as has happened elsewhere) commercial real estate developments follow. But, then the issue becomes how to finance this before the return on investment is realized...that issue is politically infuriating to many. It is frustrating to see an option as obvious as the one you have stated and know that a few obstacles prevent it from happening. For a good read on shared parking, which I believe you alluded to, see this link, courtesy of Peter Katz, planner for Denver, CO: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/smart_growth/parking/parking_seminar/Toolbox-Handbook.pdf

Festoonic said...

Oh, good. Another gazillion-dollar development proposed for Portland. I assume someone rakes in cash for merely proposing these bone-headed schemes, because there certainly isn't any money to be made in actually building them. In fact, there isn't any money, period.

Patrick Venne said...

One more thing ... after reviewing the City's somewhat arcane parking requirements for the Peninsula, it appears that the amount of parking in this proposal may just be to play it safe and make sure that (a) the City requirements are met, and that also, (b) consumer demand (from the residents) is adequately met. With inner city housing as tough to sell as it already is, lack of parking might make this a tough sell. Those are just my guesses. The City Code, Chapter 14, Division 20, on Parking Requirements, does allow for special Planning Board exceptions to parking requirements when there are special circumstances, like being located on a transit line. Currently, unless I am mistaken, the closest bus pick up is Elm? Not too far to walk, but I wonder if it would warrant PB exception to the otherwise applicable requirements? An interesting idea would be to design the garage for later adaptation to a new non-parking use, so that if and when a transit loop of the sort you recommend were to become viable or instituted, the developers could convert the space to income generating--but half will be owned by the City, no? Perhaps it could be a public transportation hub, like the sort the Bayside Plan envisions for this supposedly TOD-neighborhood.

Casey Conley said...

I just spoke with someone at Federated Cos. That image was apparently drafted by the city several years ago. The official, Jonathan Cox, also said the figures for the development have since changed from that initial sell sheet. Not sure if that's true beyond his word but it seems consistent with other projects.

Casey Conley/Portland Daily Sun

Patrick Venne said...

good info, Casey, this rendering must have been done at the same time as this rendering http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_LvPwIC2dBvQ/TClf0c7RCXI/AAAAAAAAANQ/mK4POqVBQJA/s1600/22045_602906089270_6903714_36194984_265668_n.jpg which looks almost exactly the same, with the exception of the central buildings, which are shorter. The rendering link was released in a 2007 Portland Press Herald Article, along with several others, entitled "An Urban Vision Rises in Bayside" or something to that effect. It was right after the new height limits and other urbanist revisions.

Patrick Venne said...
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Patrick Venne said...

A while ago, before I first wrote on the subject, I contacted the City of Portland Planning Department to inquire as to whether this was a city-commissioned rendering. I just received an answer: it is not, although it is similar to one which is. Seems like we're being told it is neither Federated's nor the City's...

Patrick Venne said...
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