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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Good News on India Street

Opechee Construction, the company that built the new mixed-use hotel building on Fore and Franklin Streets last year on part of the former Jordan's Meats site, has submitted applications to develop the eastern portion of the same site. I'd like to highlight it here, and complement Opechee on one of the best development proposals that the city has seen in years. Here's what it could look like, pending the city's approval, which ought to come next month:

Fore Street view (India St. on right):

Middle St. facade (India St. on left):

This is a great-looking project, and I'd . The Fore Street face of the building would feature a level of retail space with condominiums above; the Middle Street facade, which faces the small restaurant row of Duckfat, Ribolita, and the East Ender, would have street-level retail space with offices above. It's a large building, but Opechee's architects have articulated the facade to introduce variation and interest, to give the appearance of three or four smaller buildings.

It's always hard to judge from renderings, but I really think that this is going to add a lot of life to the India Street neighborhood, and draw Portland's center of gravity eastward across Franklin Street.

But in spite of the ho-hum overall design of the Hampton Inn building completed last year, it still succeeds because they did put extra effort where it really matters, in the small, street-level details: an outdoor seating area in front of the brewpub, windows that look into the kitchen's buzz of activity from the Franklin Street sidewalk, a granite public stairway leading to a pleasant alley off Franklin Street, and attractive light sconces and awnings located just above a pedestrian's eye-level.

This new building is packing in even more activity and detail to engage the street: lots of retail space and attractive storefronts, plus balconies above to draw the building's occupants outside (where they'll be able to enjoy views of Casco Bay).  When built, Middle Street east of Franklin Street will have as much or more going on at street level as any street in Portland.

And by replacing an empty lot with a building, it will also create a nicely enclosed outdoor "room". Tourists will be able to peer east from Post Office Park and see, in the distance, what looks like an interesting block of restaurants and shops. And more likely than not, they'll wander across Franklin Street — currently a huge psychic barrier — to get there.

The project is also one of the most progressive in the city in terms of how it provides parking. There is a small garage, but it's tucked in behind the storefronts, and is the minimum needed for the adjacent hotel and for the condos. The developers are asking office tenants to take responsibility for finding their own parking spaces, either through off-site leases or through the city's new (and still unused) Fee In Lieu of Parking ordinance.

One more thing: two years ago, Opechee came to the city with a proposal to build an ugly two-level parking garage on this same site (here's the post I wrote back in August 2010). Neighboring businesses rejected having too much parking in their neighborhood, and asked the developers to embrace a higher-value, pedestrian-friendly vision for the district.  So it's very much to Opechee's credit that they listened to their neighbors and went back to the drawing board to craft this much-improved proposal.

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