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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Maritime Landing" update

The "Maritime Landing" proposal for Bayside (first discussed on this blog a full year ago) is moving one step closer towards approval, as the City Council seems finally ready to endorse a purchase and sale agreement with the developers that would transfer them the city-owned land and grant them $9 million in funds to construct a 700-space parking garage. 

You can probably guess how I feel about the city's spending $9 million for a urine-soaked garage. In this case, though, I'll hold my nose (perhaps literally) because the developers are proposing to build a lot of housing to go along with it, plus active retail space on the garage's first floor. Last summer, when negotiations were beginning, they'd been proposing 540 apartments; now, they're talking up to 700 apartments (one previously-proposed office tower in the project has been replaced by another residential building) plus large ground-floor retail spaces that stretch the length of Somerset Street and also face the Bayside Trail. 

Here's a rough sketch that they brought to last night's committee meeting. After the Council approves the land sale agreement, the developers will have up to 3 years to construct the first phase of the project (the two towers on the left, plus the parking garage), the tax revenue from which will supposedly repay the city's loan for the parking garage. Sometime after the sale is finalized, the developers will come back to the city's planning board for a more detailed review of the project, including site design and architectural details.

Hopefully it works out better than the Ocean Gateway Garage project, which was also supposed to come with a lot of housing (five years after that eyesore got built with millions of dollars in city funds, it's still just a massive, half-empty parking garage on the waterfront, blighting the neighborhood with its ugliness). It deserves a note of caution that this project's parking garage plans and subsidies, much like the failed Ocean Gateway project, came from a pre-bubble era. And they specifically came from the minds of old-line, 1960s-urban-renewal bureaucrats like Joe Gray and Jack Lufkin, who embraced the anti-urban mentality that new construction in Portland required as much parking as you'd find at the Maine Mall.*

Another concern of mine relates to the project's general urban design. I have a feeling that the buildings are going to be cheap — both in terms of rent, and in terms of materials. The commercial brokers in charge of leasing the large retail spaces seem to be going after boring chains — I'll be astounded if CVS or Rite Aid don't lay claim to a big chunk of the project's retail space. 

Inexpensive, unimaginative urban development is actually good from the perspective of affordability — the city needs a lot more housing for the middle class, and the new residents will need boring places like CVS to take care of basic household needs. But I also worry about Bayside becoming like Boston, full of soulless chain stores and apartment towers with no sense of community.

But those devils will be worked out in the details. For now, it's good to see someone so bullish on Bayside, and Portland.

*This idea, that we needed lots of parking to compete with the suburbs, is typical of these older 1960s-era bureaucrats with low esteem for their city. In the years since these guys have left their posts in City Hall, the Maine Mall's owners, General Growth Properties, have gone into default. In a 2010 article about his parking garage's failures, Lufkin (who had by then been ousted from his city post) still asserted that "the lack of parking is among the biggest obstacles to development in Portland." And yet, in the five years since that garage was built, the number of cars registered in Portland has actually declined by over 6,000, and counting. That's enough cars to fill the Ocean Gateway garage eight times over. Lufkin now works for Gorham Savings Bank, so if you're a depositor there, he's your problem now.


Anonymous said...

I have a feeling the ground floor will look like you're walking Boylston. On one hand that's not ideal for our style in Portland but then we also have to realize this is a new walkable neighborhood and if you want people to not use cars you gotta give them what they need at their doorstep. At least none of the shops will be tourist trinket places.

Marc D said...

I like your insights about the potential for the buildings to be cheap in terms of rent and materials. Hopefully that gets vetted out. Personally I'm OK with the parking garages attached to both Phase 1 and Phase 2, as long as those are the ONLY two garages built in all of Bayside as things fill in around this development and the other current garage at the corner of Oxford & Chestnut gets a facelift and something built on top of it. I don't see only residential development happening as things develop in Bayside. The parking will be needed if office towers are built, since you can't realistically expect all employees in those offices to live within walking, biking or bus distance without a vastly improved public transportation network spreading out into the suburbs (which is another discussion altogether). Companies won't move in if their employees living in the suburbs don't have a place to park. The parking garages will become even more important if the Top of the Old Port does get developed at some time in this millennium.

Don E. said...

As you say, the full build out has potential for activating Bayside with some streetwall and eyes on the street and traffic on the Bayside Trail, etc. and a parking garage is a necessity. The devil is in the details as to how the parking and ped world coordinate, but the devil is also in the macro view. One thing that has always bothered me about the "Vision for Bayside" plan is how it is going to affect both the identity and context of the city not only from within, with views from the ridge of the peninsula blocked by 135'+ buildings, but from afar. As a resident of 'across the cove', I regularly use the boulevard to get intown. The rise of the Intermed building was a real eye opener, how that one building jumped up in front of the skyline. Now we have one developer on the verge of defining the gateway and best scenic view of the city from on land possibly with, as you say, cheaply built boxes built with a vision only extending to occupancy and balance sheets. This is significant. If these shoeboxes on end are the final design, my view across Back Cove will take a huge hit by nondescript, giant dentils, the view from the city to Back Cove will largely be gone, and the approach to the peninsula by both residents and visitors, will see this project as the face of Portland.

my architect said...

I contacted Federated to ask them what they plan for E. Perry Iron & Metal is, they never responded.
E.Perry is not going anywhere soon, evident from their recent exterior rehab, I could be way off, but the viability of this neighborhood is serious affected with the presence of a scrap yard.
Anyone have an opinion on this?