Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PRESS HERALD

City's planners prefer Olympia plan for pier

They tell city councilors that it meets more of Portland's design guidelines than Ocean Properties' plan.

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By JOSIE HUANG Staff Writer August 14, 2007


One of the firms bidding to make over Portland's Maine State Pier by building a hotel, offices and other facilities has found early favor among some city councilors, but a rival company is getting higher marks for its design work.

City planners said Olympia Cos. of Portland meets more of the city's design guidelines for the eastern waterfront than front- runner Ocean Properties Ltd. of Portsmouth, N.H., according to a presentation Monday at a City Council workshop.

Olympia's designs are contemporary and contain environmentally friendly elements such as green roofs and natural ventilation, planners wrote, yet blend in well with historic buildings on Commercial Street.

The city's one major criticism has to do with permitting. Planning Division Director Alex Jaegerman said there are questions about whether Olympia can get state approval for a proposal to put the hotel on filled land, which is generally reserved for marine-related projects.

"They showed that they can relocate the hotel, but that hasn't been evaluated yet," Jaegerman said after the meeting. He and the city's urban planner, Carrie Marsh, co-wrote the review.

Ocean Properties has "a number" of design problems, according to the review, even though it has made "significant changes" to its proposal over the last several months.

The review points out that Ocean Properties has set its hotel and office building back from Commercial Street, separated from the sidewalk by a plaza and a drop-off area.

As a result, major entrances for the hotel and offices would not open onto sidewalks, as called for by the city's Eastern Waterfront Design Guidelines, adopted in 2005.

"The proposed office and hotel buildings are conceptual in design but do not yet provide signature architecture that will promote the City of Portland as a world-class seaport," according to the review.

Design will be one of several major factors that city councilors will have to consider when they choose between the two proposals for the 7-acre pier.

Each project projected to cost $100 million and include restaurants, access for vessels and green space.

Other issues include the financing for the plans -- the topic of an executive session after Monday's council workshop -- and the project's effect on marine operations.

When the city's ports and transportation director, Jeff Monroe, talked to councilors on Monday about the projects' effect on the waterfront, he did not say whether one proposal would be better than the other.

But he did stress that both firms should think more about how to support the pedestrian traffic flowing off cruise ships docked at the pier.

Space must be provided for dozens of tour buses and cabs in a way that does not clog the intersection of Commercial Street and Franklin Arterial, Monroe said.

Monroe also suggested that building a mega-berth off site to accommodate large ships would reduce wear and tear on the Maine State Pier and reduce dredging costs.

A mega-berth already is proposed for the Ocean Gateway project, but the city does not have the $6 million or so that Monroe said it would cost to build. Councilors started to wonder aloud whether the companies could incorporate the mega-berth into their projects.

"It seems like a much wiser investment to invest in a mega-berth than to invest in dredging around the Maine State Pier," said Councilor David Marshall.

"From a marine operations perspective," Monroe responded, "it would be much to our advantage."

The workshop was the last of two before a public hearing tentatively scheduled during a City Council meeting on Sept. 5. A council vote could follow.

Last month, the council's three-member community development committee voted 2-1 to recommend the Ocean Properties plan, whose leaders include former Sen. George Mitchell and Robert Baldacci, brother of Gov. John Baldacci.

Olympia Cos. is led by the developer Kevin Mahaney.

Staff Writer Josie Huang can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

jhuang@pressherald.com

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