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?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Exit 7 Connection Finally Coming (Albeit Overpriced and Late)

After a long, drawn-out process of "analysis" (read: inflating costs far beyond necessary) the Maine DOT is finally preparing to install a basic sidewalk on Franklin Street under Exit 7 to connect the Back Cove Trail to Marginal Way, after failing to do so last summer when construction crews were rebuilding the intersection anyhow.

It's going to cost taxpayers $200,000. Now, I'm pretty sure a single Eagle Scout could have done it for less, but at least it's getting done.

If you have any interest, Augusta's bureaucrats are hosting a public meeting about the project tomorrow at City Hall:

Public Meeting to Discuss Much Anticipated Trail Connector
City and state officials invite public to view plans for Bayside-Back Cove connection

Tomorrow, the City of Portland, Maine Department of Transportation and Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) will host a public meeting to discuss plans to construct a trail connector from the Franklin Street-Marginal Way intersection to the Back Cove Trail. The connector will help fully realize the vision for the Bayside Trail as a key link connecting the city's most used trails and parks: the Back Cove Trail, the Eastern Promenade and Eastern Prom Trail, East End Beach, and Deering Oaks. The connector will also provide easy and safe access for cyclists and pedestrians looking to travel from Portland’s downtown to communities off-peninsula.

“Linking these popular trails with a safe and accessible connector is going to have a tremendously positive impact both on the Bayside neighborhood but also for those who commute to the downtown by bike or foot,” stated Director of Public Services Michael Bobinsky. “The success of this project is directly related to the willingness of all parties, from MDOT to the city and PACTS to the public, to collaborate and work towards a common goal – make the city accessible to all modes of transportation.”

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting to learn firsthand of the preliminary plans for the proposed ten foot wide, asphalt and stone dust bike/pedestrian trail, ask questions, and provide feedback to the design. The $195,000 trail connector, funded by the Maine Department of Transportation with a 20% local match provided by the City of Portland, is expected to be constructed this fall. Plans for the trail connector will also be available for review at Portland Public Services, 55 Portland Street.

When: Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 6:00 PM

Where: Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall, Myrtle Street, Portland