Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sea Dogs: A Better Deal Struck

The hardball tactics that were utilized by Councilors Donoghue, Leeman, Duson, and I have lead to a much better deal for the City of Portland. Just minutes before the Council meeting on June 18th, the final details were presented to the Council by the City Staff.

The new deal will save the City $1 million in subsidies over the next 20 years. Unlike the original deal, the Sea Dogs will take out the loan to pay for the $1.7 million clubhouse instead of the City. Additionally, the Sea Dogs will take responsibility for field maintenance in trade for parking revenues.

The City Council passed the new deal that will provide $1.7 million to the Sea Dogs over the next 20 years, which equals just over $85,000 each year. In the original deal the City would have provided $150,000 per year for the same period of time.

City Manager Joe Gray estimated that it would cost the City around $60,000 per year to maintain the physical infrastructure of Hadlock Field even if the Sea Dogs were not leasing the field. As the field is owned by the City, the subsidy to the Sea Dogs has been shrunk to just $25,000 per year once the infrastructure costs are subtracted.

On May 21st the Council postponed action on the original deal due to lack of support. Seven votes out of nine were needed to pass the City bond of $1.7 million in the original deal. Councilor Duson was still undecided and Councilors Donoghue, Leeman, and I refused to vote for the deal if it included subsidies for the Sea Dogs and the City bond.

Now the Sea Dogs will take the risk on the 20-year bond for the new clubhouse and pay the financing on the bond instead of the City. Additionally, the City will not have to pay for the bond out of the Capital Improvements Program, which would have taken up 17% of this year’s CIP. The City has a self-imposed cap of $10 million for the CIP that pays all of the infrastructure maintenance in Portland.

In Service,
Councilor Dave Marshall

June 19, 2007

Have bat, will bargain: Sea Dogs mascot Slugger. (photo/Chris Busby) Sea Dogs win clubhouse in extra innings
Team gives up $1M in last-minute pitch

By Chris Busby

The Portland Sea Dogs will get their new clubhouse, but the team had to shave over $1 million from its new 20-year contract with the city to keep playing on publicly owned Hadlock Field. As part of a last-minute pitch to win City Council approval of the clubhouse, the team had also agreed to pay for it, rather than ask the city to borrow money for the project.

Portland Maine Baseball, Inc., the company that owns the minor league franchise, will pay the city an annual rent of $150,000 during the first five full years of the new deal. By the year 2024, the Dogs' lease will be $225,000. The team is taking over maintenance of the field and bearing that cost, too, though the city is giving them nearly $70,000 worth of maintenance equipment and about $75,000 in parking revenues every year.

Still, overall, the city's costs under the new deal decline over the next two decades compared to previous proposals floated by the team.

Portland Maine Baseball (PMB) originally asked city officials to borrow $1.7 million for a new home-team clubhouse under right field – and said the clubhouse deal could make or break the team's affiliation with the Boston Red Sox. [See "Sea Dogs want new clubhouse, or else," March 22, News.]

Several city councilors expressed concern that borrowing for the team's private clubhouse this year would delay funding for public improvement projects like roads, sidewalks and schools. The council has a self-imposed cap that limits bonding for such projects at $10 million per year. Some councilors also voiced objection to the city subsidizing the for-profit enterprise at a time of tight municipal budgets.

In the end, the city scored on both points.

Having realized they lacked the super-majority of seven council votes necessary to pass the bond order, the team dropped that plan and proposed paying for the clubhouse itself last week. But as late as this weekend, the deal on the table before councilors would have required the city to continue to maintain the field for the Dogs and for high school baseball games at Hadlock. Together with other expenses and lease arrangements, the cost to the city over 20 years would have approached $3 million. That's almost $1 million more than taxpayers would have shelled out under the original proposal involving a bond.

The deal approved Monday night will cost the city $1.7 million over 20 years – perhaps coincidentally, the same cost to construct the clubhouse.

Assistant City Manager Anita LaChance said "feedback" from councilors last Friday – when terms of the previous proposal were made public in advance of Monday's council meeting – prompted renegotiations early Monday morning. Councilors received the revised lease proposal just minutes before their special afternoon session, which began at 5 p.m.

Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach conceded to councilors that with Monday's revised deal, PMB had "made a financial commitment far in excess of what we were comfortable with" when the process began in March.

Several members of the public spoke against the latest arrangement, citing the ongoing subsidy, and representatives of several local non-profits that benefit from Sea Dog-related charity work spoke in favor of the latest proposal.

The new lease was unanimously approved.

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard. He can be reached at editor@thebollard.com.

Written and compiled by Chris Busby

June 19, 2007

Skate park hung up again
It’ll be at least another month before the Portland City Council votes on whether to build a new skate park at the Dougherty Field sports complex in Libbytown. On Monday night, councilors sent the matter back to the Health and Human Services Committee, which meets Thursday to consider soil testing results from an alternative site by Back Cove.

The committee was ordered to report back to the council for its July 16 meeting, and to hold a public meeting between neighbors and skate park users in the meantime.

As The Bollard reported last month [see “Skate park scuttlebutt,” May 21, News], skateboarders, freestyle BMX bikers and downtown business owners alike have been frustrated by the lack of progress on the park. The process of selecting a new site began two years ago, and the previous public skate park on Marginal Way was removed this past winter (city officials cite “safety reasons” for its removal), prompting some skaters and bikers to take to the streets, parks and sidewalks, instead.

Some neighbors oppose a new skate park at Dougherty Field, citing concerns about noise and traffic. Several who spoke at Monday night’s meeting pointed out that a conceptual “master plan” for the site, completed over five years ago, does not include plans for a skate park.

“The council is being asked to ignore and trample on” the work that went into that plan, said City Councilor Ed Suslovic, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee.

Councilor Jim Cohen, another committee member, said he was concerned about the process by which the site came up for a vote last night. Cohen said he was “very disappointed” to learn through the media that a vote on the Dougherty Field location was on Monday’s agenda. His committee has not yet made a recommendation regarding a new park site.

In addition to consideration of the Back Cove site, the council may also weigh the possibility a new elementary school could be built at Dougherty Field. A joint city council/school board committee (called the “3x3 Committee”) is considering possible options to consolidate elementary schools, and Dougherty Field – located adjacent to the school department’s West School Program for students with behavioral and emotional challenges – is among two places being eyed for new construction.

That process, however, is unlikely to be finished by next month.

Despite the delay, the Dougherty Field site appears to have majority support on the council.

The Back Cove site has several major drawbacks, including the fact that, unlike Dougherty Field, where unused and dilapidated tennis courts would make way for a skate park, the coveside location would displace a grassy practice field used by youth and high school soccer teams. There may also be what city Parks & Recreation Department Director Denise Clavette termed “wetlands issues.”

“Elected mayor” dream deferred
Also on Monday, the Portland City Council deferred action on an order to ask voters whether to set up a charter commission – a body that could recommend the reestablishment of a directly elected mayor.

Councilors Dave Marshall and Kevin Donoghue had proposed to begin the commission process this fall, after having earlier failed to win council support to send a variation of the “elected mayor” idea directly to voters in November. [See “The Commish, then the Mayor?,” June 5, News Briefs, below.]

Councilor Ed Suslovic suggested the city first try to change the state law governing such commissions next year, and he ultimately got support from most councilors – including Donoghue and Marshall – to pursue that route, instead. (Councilors Donna Carr, Jill Duson, Cheryl Leeman and Jim Cohen opposed the motion to refer the matter to the council’s Legislative Committee, which Suslovic chairs.)

Among the concerns with the state law Suslovic raised is its stipulation that a charter commission be elected within 90 days of voters approving its creation. Suslovic and others oppose the idea introduced by Marshall and Donoghue to hold a vote on the commission’s formation and its members at the same time. Under that scenario, it’s possible for voters to “elect” charter commissioners while simultaneously rejecting the idea of creating the commission in the first place, as happened a few years ago when a county charter commission was put before the public and voted down.

Suslovic would seek a change in state law to allow municipalities to hold the election for commission members on the next “regular” election day – in June or November – following approval of its creation. He also favors giving cities more flexibility to determine how many commissioners to elect, and whether those commissioners are elected at-large, by all city voters, or by individual council districts.

Councilor Jim Cloutier said he likes the idea of a commission elected the same way voters choose councilors – four are elected at-large and five represent individual districts. Without changes in state law, “we’re going to have a stupid charter commission,” he said.

It would be next spring, at the earliest, before the state took action on any proposed changes to the law. A vote to establish a charter commission would then not likely take place until next November, at the earliest – with, if voters approve it, an election of commission members in June of 2009.

Voters would go to the polls again to weigh in on any changes to city government put forth by the commission. That vote could be at least three years down the road.

Maine Today


Council postpones ruling on new skate park

The City Council decided Monday to delay for a month a decision on where to build a new skate park.

The council unanimously referred the question to its health and recreation committee, which has been studying the issue for several months. The committee is expected to provide a recommendation to the full council by July 16.

City workers removed the skate park on Marginal Way a few months ago to make way for redevelopment in Bayside. Two locations under consideration for a new park are Dougherty Field, between Douglass and St. James streets, and a field off Preble Street Extension, near Back Cove Trail.

Councilors asked the committee to make sure property owners in both areas have a chance to comment on the issue before making a recommendation. The committee plans to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 303 at City Hall.

Panel to weigh benefits of elected city mayor

The City Council`s legislative committee will consider the question of electing a charter commission to study possible changes to the city charter, including having an elected mayor.

Councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue want to put the question on the November ballot.

The mayor is a councilor elected by the council to head the council, usually for a year. The council voted 5-4 Monday to have the legislative committee review the issue, with councilors Donna Carr, James Cohen, Jill Duson and Cheryl Leeman opposed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Bollard

The Commish, then the Mayor?
The odds are good that Portland voters will be asked to decide this November whether or not to elect a special commission to study changes to the City Charter, including the possibility of reinstituting the position of a directly elected mayor with expanded governing powers.

The odds of voters approving such a commission, however, are anybody's guess.

Councilors Dave Marshall and Kevin Donoghue are promoting the commission after previously opposing the idea. The pair, both Green Independents who represent districts on the peninsula, tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to convince their colleagues to put a different measure on this fall's ballot.

That measure would have created a so-called "weak mayor" – one directly elected by voters, rather than appointed by councilors from amongst themselves, but with no greater authority than the post currently carries. [See "Council Greens push for elected mayor," Feb. 27, in News.] A "strong mayor" would have more authority, such as veto power or direct management of the city budget, but any change that alters the balance of power between councilors can only be made after a charter commission is elected and formed to recommend changes.

The commission's determinations are not predictable – for example, it may or may not recommend any changes, or could propose an even more radical restructuring of city government. Marshall and Donoghue opposed forming a commission partly for that reason, but they now say subsequent discussions with constituent groups have led them to believe it's the more popular, and practical, way to go.

The Council will consider whether to put the question on this November's ballot at its June 18 meeting. The order would also set this coming election day, Nov. 6, as the date voters would choose who will serve on the commission – should a majority also vote to form it that day. As proposed, there would be eight members – five elected from each of the city electoral districts, and three appointed by the Council.

Marshall and Donoghue were the only councilors to support holding a "weak mayor" vote, but it appears there's majority support for a charter commission that could lead to a "strong mayor." Councilors Jim Cloutier, Ed Suslovic and Jill Duson have all expressed general support for the idea of at least asking voters whether they wish to form a charter commission.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman is among those opposed to even putting the question before the local electorate. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Leeman said of city government. She decried "all these people with their personal agendas… special interest agendas" who support major changes in the mayorship.

Efforts to reinstitute a directly elected mayor have surfaced repeatedly over the past half-century or so, most recently 10 years ago, when voters rejected a measure to form a charter commission. Lawn signs depicting a corrupt-looking chief executive helped dissuade Portlanders from endorsing the commission, people on both sides recall.

"I will dust off my campaign signs," Leeman vowed. "No – big no."
Press Herald

Handling of land in Bayside questioned

Two councilors call for clearer rules regarding the city's process of selling and leasing its property.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. :ap -->June 12, 2007


Staff Writer

Two Portland city councilors are questioning the process being used to sell city-owned land in the Bayside neighborhood.

Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall say they are unhappy with the way Portland has been handling the disposition of city property in general, including the ongoing review of long-term lease proposals for the Maine State Pier.

Typically, when the city has a large property for sale, it advertises a request for detailed, written proposals. They are due on a certain date and are reviewed publicly based on measurable criteria, such as building design, intended use and payment.

For the Bayside property, the city hired a real estate agent, CBRE/The Boulos Co., through competitive bidding, to market 3.5 acres of former railroad land on Somerset Street.

Boulos negotiated offers from six potential buyers, and the City Council's community development committee voted 3-0 last week to recommend one to the full council.

The committee backed Atlantic Redevelopment Co., which offered $3 million and plans to build a parking garage, housing and as many as three office buildings.

City officials gave a few details about the other offers, excluding financial information they said was deemed confidential by the agent. City officials who are familiar with each proposal said Atlantic offered the most money and the most comprehensive plan, including a 64-unit housing complex.

At a workshop on Monday, councilors were told they could learn more about the other offers if they agreed to keep it confidential.

The state's right to know law allows private negotiations on public lands, with the understanding that details of those talks become public when negotiations end.

Councilor James Cloutier, chairman of the community development committee, said the goal in marketing the property through an agent rather than a city-generated request for proposals was to get the most money for the land. City officials decided to let existing zoning and market demand decide what would be built.

That rationale doesn't satisfy Donoghue and Marshall. Both plan to support Atlantic's proposal but don't like the way the public has been excluded from full disclosure and having a say in the process. Both were elected in November, after city officials decided how to sell the Bayside land.

"I'm concerned about the lack of transparency," Marshall said after the workshop. "It's the public's land. For the council to simply say we're getting the best deal isn't enough."

Donoghue said he doesn't want another barrier, in this case a real estate agent, between him and his constituents. He called Atlantic's effort to satisfy the city's call for mixed-use redevelopment in Bayside an "accident" because the city didn't demand it.

"Having a broker market the property reduces the process to a business transaction, when in fact we are setting land-use policy for Bayside," Donoghue said after the workshop.

Both Donoghue and Marshall believe the city should issue requests for proposals whenever large parcels of land and the future of a neighborhood are at stake. However, neither has much faith in how the city handles requests for proposals.

They oppose the latitude that the community development committee has given to one of two firms that are competing to lease and redevelop the Maine State Pier. The three-member committee, chaired by Cloutier, consists of Donoghue and Councilor Jill Duson as well.

Ocean Properties Ltd. started changing its plan soon after the proposals were submitted in February. The latest is a $100 million redesign to be considered at the committee's next public hearing, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the pier. The Olympia Cos.' $90 million proposal remains largely unchanged. Both are seeking 99-year leases.

In March, Cloutier and Duson agreed to let Ocean Properties alter its proposal, while Donoghue said he would judge the initial submissions.

The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the council in July. In the meantime, Marshall joins Donoghue in calling for clearer rules for how the city handles its property.

"I'd like to see us develop better guidelines for land disposition in general," Marshall said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Press Herald

Trio will force council's hand on skate park

Portland's mayor and two councilors plan to demand a decision on a location at a meeting on
June 18.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer © Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. :ap -->
June 11, 2007

A year ago, skateboarding advocates worried that Portland's skate park on Marginal Way would be removed long before a new skate park was built.

They were right.

The skate park -- a few rotted, wooden ramps on a paved lot -- was removed earlier this spring to make way for private development of former city-owned land in the Bayside neighborhood.

Now skateboarders in Portland have nowhere to practice their sport but the streets, where it's illegal, and the City Council hasn't figured out where to build a new park as promised two years ago. Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. and councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue plan to force the issue June 18, when they will ask the council to make a decision one way or another.

"We're really creating a double-jeopardy situation for our youth," Marshall said Friday. "They aren't supposed to skate in the streets, but where else do they have? It's not a good way to make our city friendly to our youth." Topping the list of possible sites is Dougherty Field, between St. James and Douglass streets, near the former West Elementary School. A task force of skateboarding advocates and parks and recreation officials settled on the site last year. The skate park would replace abandoned tennis courts beside Interstate 295 and near bus routes.

"It's the best location we've come up with so far," Marshall said.

Councilors Donna Carr and Edward Suslovic, who live near West School, have expressed concern about the effect a skate park would have on their neighbors.

A joint panel of councilors and School Committee members is considering the West School site as a possible location for a new elementary school.

Marshall said the tennis courts are at the far corner of the West School parcel and wouldn't interfere with development of a new school at the site.

Another site under consideration is an open field on Preble Street Extension, near Back Cove Trail and beside I-295.

Building a poured-concrete skate park on that site may be costly and difficult, however, because underground utilities cross the property and the land is a filled tidal area, said Thomas Civiello, assistant director of parks and recreation.

Civiello said several sites remain open to consideration. The task force reviewed all of them thoroughly last year.

When city officials choose a location, it could take two years to fund, design and build the park that skaters have in mind.

Barring private contributions and donations of labor and materials, a poured-concrete skate park could cost Portland taxpayers as much as $300,000. Similar parks have been built in several other Maine communities.

The city borrowed $75,000 last fall for the skate park and $100,000 in 2005 for the same purpose. Skateboarding advocates have raised about $12,000, but securing additional funding has proved frustrating.

"We can't apply for grants if we can't say where we're going to build it," said Eli Cayer, a real estate broker and skateboarder who is planning several fundaisers this summer. "If they tell us where, we can make this happen."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com

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