Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Press Herald

Council ties on plan for Clifford
Later this month, it will reconsider proposals to either renovate the school or build a new one.

By ELBERT AULL Staff Writer October 16, 2007


The Portland City Council deadlocked Monday night on a proposal to abandon Nathan Clifford Elementary School and build a new school elsewhere.

The tie vote serves to prolong the contentious, two-year debate over whether to renovate or replace the century-old facility.

The 4-4 vote occurred nearly two weeks after the Portland School Committee shifted course and recommended replacing Clifford with a new facility, and days after the state's education commissioner came out against a proposed $21 million renovation of Clifford that would get the outdated building up to state standards.

The nine-member council, under its rules on tie votes, will reconsider the issue next month. Councilor Cheryl Leeman did not attend Monday's meeting for health reasons.

Even a "no" vote from the council would not put a stop to the school proposal, which has worked its way through various committees for more than two years.

The Clifford issue needed only School Committee backing to go before the state Board of Education for a vote in the coming months, city officials said. But at least seven city councilors would have to approve financing for the project.

Councilors Ed Suslovic, Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Donna Carr voted against replacing the school.

Local leaders, parents and neighborhood residents have debated whether to renovate or replace Clifford since 2005, when the state put the historic building on Falmouth Street at the top of its list of crumbling school facilities that needed to be addressed. That meant state funding would be available to fix or replace the outdated building.

In August, a joint task force of School Committee and council members recommended closing Clifford and replacing it with a new facility that would cost $18 million, about $3 million less than the estimated cost of renovations.

The recommendation roiled some parents and neighborhood residents, who cited the school's location, diversity and above- average state standardized test scores as reasons to save the historic brick building.

They also complained loudly that their opinions were marginalized during numerous public meetings that followed the state's decision to make Clifford a top priority.

"There's a (foregone) conclusion that we're building a new school and we're building it at Baxter," Mary Gross, the parent of a Clifford student, said during Monday's meeting.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

eaull@pressherald.com
Press Herald

Council can't decide on pier bids
A 4-3 vote to pick Ocean Properties is one short of the total needed to pass.

By Tom Bell, staff writer October 16, 2007


The City Council failed again Monday to get the five votes needed to choose a winning bidder for the Maine State Pier redevelopment project.

The impasse means that issue will likely remain unresolved when Portland voters fill three open council seats in Nov. 6 elections, leaving the new council to resolve the debate. Councilors voted 4-3 on a motion to award the bid to Ocean Properties of Portsmouth, N.H., one vote short of the number needed to pass.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, the only councilor who had not previously declared a preference for either developer, voted in favor of Olympia Cos of Portland. After the meeting, Suslovic said he hopes the impasse will spur the two developers to work together on the project.

If the election results end up deciding the issue, he said, that is not bad outcome.

�The voters will have the chance to express themselves,� he said. �We may not like that it takes longer, but it�s a democracy, after all.�

Councilor Jill Duson, who supports Ocean Properties, said the election will make the selection a matter of politics rather than rational analysis. She said she has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from both firms. �Now it�s purely political,� she said.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said the election may not decide the issue, and the city could end up losing a $150 million development project.

�I think it�s sad for the city of Portland. We can�t make a decision,� he said. �We seem to be at paralysis. And it�s not just on this issue.�

Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshal joined Suslovic in support of Olympia Cos.

Mavodones, Duson and councilors Donna Carr and Jim Cloutier supported Ocean Properties.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who supports Olympia, was absent because she is recovering from surgery. Councilor Jim Cohen has recused himself because a co-worker at his law firm, Mike Saxl, is giving legal advice to Olympia Cos.

Monday�s vote came after a public hearing during which about 20 people spoke on the issue of adding a so-called �mega- berth� to the project. Developers had added the proposal after Suslovic requested it.

In a 5-2 vote, the council supported the mega-berth idea. Both firms propose building a hotel, office building and other amenities on the 7-acre pier site.

For many who spoke at the public hearing, the selection of a developer came down to two issues: design and money.

Supporters of Ocean Properties said the firm has the deep pockets to fund the construction of a fixed pier, which would cost more than $10 million, and to redevelop and repair the Maine State Pier.

Former Councilor Will Gorham said Ocean Properties� connections in the cruise industry and its experience running a cruise port would help it lure more ships to Portland and create jobs.

Supporters of Olympia Cos. said it has a superior design. Portland resident Margaret Kelsey said she liked the �holistic� approach that Olympia Cos. undertook in its design, which featured a 2-acre park.

�The waterfront belongs to the people,� she said. �It�s not just the working waterfront.�

All three of the open seats are now held by supporters of Ocean Properties: Cloutier, Duson and Carr. Only Carr is not seeking re-election.

After the meeting, Bob Baldacci of Ocean Properties appeared disappointed.

�This is not a loss for Ocean Properties,� he said. �This is a loss for the city of Portland.�

Kevin Mahaney, president of Olympia Cos., said he did not see the deadlock as a victory, although he and members of his team appeared pleased by the outcome.

�We look forward to seeing what happens. That�s all I can say,� Mahaney said.

The council will meet on Nov. 5, and reconsideration of the Maine State Pier issue is on the agenda.

The redevelopment of the state pier has vexed the council since June, when its Community Development Committee recommended that the council pick Ocean Properties.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com

View District Two: A Work in Progress in a larger map