Wednesday, October 27, 2010


How green is the ‘other’ Portland?

By Melanie D.G. Kaplan | Oct 27, 2010 |

When I talk to people about sustainable cities, Portland, Ore., is often mentioned as the gold standard. But what’s going on in the other Portland–as in Portland, Maine?

Yesterday I caught up by phone with Dave Marshall, a Portland city councilor and chair of the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee. Marshall, who is also a fine artist, is going on year 12 in Portland without a car and says Portland, Ore., is certainly a model for sustainability, but in his mind, “there’s only one Portland.”

I have to ask: When you’re talking about sustainability and cities, do people confuse you with the other Portland?

Almost all my conversations happen with people locally, so it’s not really an issue. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one Portland.

Have you been to the Portland in Oregon?

I was there in February, and they’re doing a lot of great things. They’re certainly a model. Their bike network is unparalleled in the country. It’s an amazing infrastructure. You can see their commitment to getting people to where they need to go without the automobile. They’re doing really well. They’ve also incorporated sustainability into every aspect of people’s lives, down to chickens and beehives in people’s backyards.

What’s the population of your Portland?

The region is 500,000, and the city of Portland is about 65,000.

What would you say the city already has going for it, in terms of sustainability?

Just last week the city council approved an $11 million investment package to make our 50-some odd municipal buildings energy efficient. Then when that is complete, the municipality will reduce greenhouse gas by about 30 percent with an annual savings of $880,000 before the financing is paid off, and $1.5 million a year after it’s repaid.

I understand you have a lot of support for “buy local.”

There’s a very strong buy local movement [Portland Buy Local]. The organization is very well led. There’s over 100 different businesses, including Constellation Gallery, which is the business I run. It’s an artists collective, and we share the responsibly and run the gallery together.

What kind of artist are you?

I’m a fine art painter. I paint lot of landscapes and use bold colors.

What food is grown locally there?

When people think of Maine, they think of blueberries and lobster, which are our signature foods, but there’s really a wide variety of foods that are grown in the region here. You get everything from kale and melon to eggs and dairy. We just have a short growing season. We have farmers markets that are now open year round.

Can shoppers use food stamps at the farmers market?


Speaking of lobster, how’s your water quality?

We happen to have some of the cleanest drinking water in the country. One of the things the city is doing is CSO [combined sewer overflow] separation. We have a sewer system that was installed just after the Civil War and needs massive updates. The old system puts the sewage and storm water in the same pipes, and when it overflows it eventually ends up in the bay. So we’re creating two separate systems. The process is going to have dramatic results in cleaning up the water in Casco Bay.

As an elected official, what do you hear from constituents about what they want in terms of a sustainable city?

People can be really active. We’ve seen the strongest movements around transportation. The Portland region–Cumberland County—has one of the highest rates of single-occupancy vehicle use. So there’s a movement to get the region to grow its public transit network.

In 2008 there was part of a study the Department of Transportation did to widen 295 through the peninsula, which borders on downtown. There was a lot of protest against that. Eventually that activism led to a conversation that turned into the expansion of the [Downeaster] Amtrak service from Portland to Brunswick. We got some stimulus funds to upgrade the rail. The activism we saw from the public was critical in that movement.

We have one of the best-rated Amtrak systems in country. It’s one of the only Amtrak services where you can get WiFi and lobster rolls. The numbers this has grown by have exceeded expectations.

Did 295 ever expand?

No, 295 still hasn’t been widened. Since then, the conversations have been on which alternatives we’re doing to expand on—express bus service or commuter rail.

What else is happening in Portland?

We’re going to be looking to expand our green building codes. Right now we require that any new city building or renovation comply with our green building code. They also have to meet the Architecture 2030 challenge. The goal is to be building everything more efficiently by the time we reach 2030, so every five years the energy performance will have to increase by 10 percent.

Do you have a bike share program, or bike lanes?

We’ve been expanding our network with bike lanes. We have a new trail that was a rail line. Portland Trails was one of the lead groups. The Bayside trail goes through what was once an industrial neighborhood, where we’re developing a mixed use district. We already have a pretty important trail network that people use here. One is the Baxter Boulevard trail, which is the most used trail in the state.

We haven’t really gotten all that much into bike share. We have some private companies that rent out bicycles. We have a car share program through U Car Share.

Do people bike year-round, in the snow?

Yep, I’m one of them. I’ve been car-free for most of the time I’ve been in Portland the last 12 years. I haul everything around in a trailer behind my bike.

What are your personal green goals?

I’ve been fixing up an 1840s house for the last 10 years, and my goal is to make this house as energy efficient as possible. One of the goals I had was to get the house off heating fuel (it was an old cast iron steam system with an oil burner, and it was really inefficient) and get it on high efficiency natural gas heating system before George Bush got out of office. And I was able to meet that goal. So now it’s that constant process of trying rid my life of petroleum. And getting a good understating of my own carbon footprint.

The state of Maine is more dependent on home heating fuel than any other state. More than 85 percent of homes are heated with oil. So part of our struggle is to get ourselves off fuel, and that’s part of the $11 million bond: All the buildings will be converted to natural gas, so that’ll really help reduce the greenhouse gas load. Most municipal buildings are running on oil. Natural gas is not only cleaner but it’s cheaper. You can see the parallels between what I’m doing in my own life and what’s going on the city.

Harvard praises city's arts TIF innovation

Supporting cultural development in Portland’s arts district using property tax revenues seemed like a good idea already, but it never hurts to gain some reassurance from the likes of Harvard University.

The Ivy League school's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government recently recognized Portland’s first-in-the-nation Creative Economy Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district as part of a program designed to share creative initiatives from around the country with other government agencies.

Established in 2008, the TIF district sets aside a portion of property tax revenues from the downtown zone between Longfellow Square and City Hall to be dedicated to arts and culture in Portland, allowing the city to finance the arts with the future tax revenues that the enhanced Arts District will generate. Developers must come up with $18 for every TIF dollar.

“With millions of dollars in renovations, the creation of Live/Work Portland, and the continued growth of entertainment venues, restaurants, and galleries within the Arts District, it’s pretty clear that the policies we created to support the city’s creative economy are bright ideas,” stated City Councilor David Marshall, an artist and Creative Portland Board Member who originated the concept of the Creative Economy TIF district.

The initiative was created by the City Council last year along with Creative Portland, a "creative economy" non-profit group charged with promoting and investing in Portland's creative industries.

In its first year, the TIF district program has helped restore multiple historic properties within the Arts District including the Baxter Library as well as the renovations at 645 Congress Street.

Marshall had to appeal to the Maine legislature to enact a change in state law that allows a TIF district to be established for the purpose of arts and cultural advancement — a first of a kind program according to Marshall.

“I think we're the first city to enact a TIF zone for the purposes of investing in arts and culture, and we are the only state that allows it at this point,” he said. “Now any municipality in Maine can now take advantage of this mechanism to fund arts and culture."

Creative Portland said Portland has long been identified as a community that is attractive to creative enterprises such as architectural firms, marketing firms, specialty products designers and manufactures, engineers and graphic designers, with nearly $30 million generated annually by arts and cultural organizations in the city.
The TIF District has also provided funding to support Creative Portland and its merger with the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance.

Marshall said he came up with the idea for extending the use of TIF to the creative economy during his campaign for city council in 2006.

“After researching the use of TIF in the city's recent history, I found that most TIF revenues were invested in development deals or to construct parking garages. I started to see TIF as a good means of investing in arts and culture since the purpose of TIF is to invest in projects for the public good,” he said. Eventually, he said, it gained bipartisan support.

“Democrats saw it as investing in arts and culture, Republicans saw it as economic development,” he said.

The program was passed by the Portland City Council in Nov 2008, who established the creative economy TIF district for 10 years. “Each year the council has to vote on all TIFs, and each year has the option to fund the TIF,” said Marshall.

“The city's commitment to the arts district and creative economy in the city has really led to some substantial investment in the Arts District,” he said.

October 19
Portland to borrow for energy projects
The City Council agrees to seek up to $11 million for 45 buildings, saying now is a good time.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The City Council agreed Monday night to borrow as much as $11 million for energy improvement projects in 30 municipal and 15 school buildings throughout Portland.

The Barron Center will receive the largest share of money, $2.4 million, including $1.4 million for new boilers.

Other allotments for energy improvements include $450,000 for the Portland Exposition Building; $392,000 for City Hall and Merrill Auditorium; $423,000 for the public safety building; $1.2 million for the Lyseth Elementary School and $694,000 for Deering High School.

Although most of the projects are expected to pay for themselves over time through energy savings, councilors defended their decision after several residents questioned why the council didn't put the borrowing issue out to public referendum.

"We are spending money to save money," Councilor John M. Anton told critics. "And we are borrowing at historically low interest rates. This is good fiscal management on the city's part."

The projects come in response to an energy audit done earlier this year by Ameresco, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm.

Ameresco has said that the projects will save about $700,000 a year in utility costs, and by the end of the 20-year bond period will pay back the cost of the work and interest on the bond.

Councilor David Marshall said the energy conservation measures will enable the city to reduce its carbon footprint by more than 30 percent -- the equivalent of taking 900 cars off the road.

"I can't see how this could be seen as a negative," he said.

Steven Scharf, president of the Portland Taxpayers Association, Robert Haines and Charles Bragden each urged the council to put the borrowing measure out to voters.

Portland's bond counsel, James Saffian, wrote in an e-mail to city attorney Gary Wood on Friday that the council did not need voters' approval to borrow $11 million because no single capital improvement would exceed the city charter limit of $4 million.

"We are issuing bonds for 20 years for some things we won't see a payback for 50 years," Haines said. "It's not a threat or even a challenge, but there may be a group in the city that will challenge this in court."

"The public has no sense of what you are planning to do with this money," Scharf said. "We're spending this money without having a public conversation. Folks have no choice. You are going to spend $11 million of their money."

Bragden said he could see the value in some of the energy projects, but he questioned the wisdom of authorizing such a large expenditure without getting public approval.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

An Old Aircraft Carrier Needs a Final Resting Place, but Not Everyone Wants It
Published: September 18, 2010

PORTLAND, Me. — Apparently it is not so easy to find a permanent home for a resident that weighs tens of thousands of tons and is more than 1,000 feet long.
Enlarge This Image
The JFK CV-67 Memorial Foundation, Inc., Roland Camilleri

The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy may end up in Portland, Me. Some residents are concerned that it might block the view.

The John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier christened by a 9-year-old Caroline Kennedy in 1967 and decommissioned three years ago, needs a place to retire. The Navy wants to donate it. If no viable host can be found, the carrier that aided United States military operations in Beirut and Operation Desert Storm will be turned into scrap.

The Navy accepted proposals from Portland and Rhode Island, but not everyone here wants the battle-tested carrier parked in the harbor.

“It’s not a good fit,” said David Marshall, a City Council member. “It would block a good portion of our view corridors, and it ends up being a potential liability for the city.”

But Richard Fitzgerald, who is leading a nonprofit group’s effort to bring the John F. Kennedy to Portland, said the carrier would set this harbor filled with barges, ferries and fishing boats apart from others in New England.

“It would be the best thing that ever happened to the state of Maine,” Mr. Fizgerald said.

Last year the City Council gave the group permission to apply for the ship. The last of three selection rounds begins in February.

Last week, after the Portland group presented plans at a workshop on the project, some said an aircraft carrier just would not blend in amid a backdrop of lobster boats and repurposed warehouses and could block views of harbor islands. Half of the counselors present at the workshop expressed concern about the project. The group would have to agree to the ship’s location.

A hearing and vote on the carrier has not been scheduled.

Mr. Fitzgerald, a sports referee and retired accountant, said he was not surprised by the opposition given the economic climate and was confident that he could persuade the council to support the project.

Mr. Fitzgerald sees the John F. Kennedy as a museum in the style of New York’s Intrepid or San Diego’s Midway, as well as a function space. The ship would be a fitting tribute to Maine’s rich maritime and military past and would attract ample tourist traffic, he said.

Many of the visitors, Mr. Fitzgerald said, will come from cruise ships that dock in a terminal directly next to where he hopes the carrier will be berthed. The 1,052-foot-long aircraft carrier is not much larger than the cruise ships that the city is courting or the barges that move cargo into the port, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

“The Kennedy has a very sleek silhouette compared to cruise ships that have several upper decks,” he said. “Some of them are longer than the carrier and side by side overwhelm the carrier.”

But Mr. Marshall does not want to see a ship that large become a permanent resident.

“The difference between the cruise ships and the J.F.K. is that the cruise ships are temporary guests,” Mr. Marshall said. “The J.F.K. would basically be an aircraft carrier sitting on our waterfront forever.”

Mr. Marshall also worries about how the museum will be financed. Mr. Fizgerald said the project would cost $71 million over 10 years, which would be raised through a combination of donations, grants and loans. No city money will be used, he said.

Based on models from other museums, he expects the Kennedy to pull in about $36 million in five years from visitors.

The ship, nicknamed Big John, was the last non-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier built by the Navy, and it received so many modifications during construction that it became its own class.

The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame has been marshaling support from Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, President Kennedy’s nephew, and other public figures. They plan to turn the ship into a museum, job-training center and disaster-relief staging ground, and have identified $10 million in commitments after a previous attempt to get an aircraft carrier fell through.

“I think they’re grasping at straws,” Frank Lennon, president of the hall of fame, said of the Portland effort. “Here you have J.F.K. PT boat training in Melville, you have his marriage to Jackie at St. Mary’s in Newport, and Hammersmith Farm was the summer White House. You have all sorts of Kennedy connections here.”

But Mr. Fitzgerald, who fills with emotion when he speaks about the carrier, is determined.

“It will happen in Portland,” he said.

36 Hours in Portland, Me.
Craig Dilger for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Me., is known for three L’s: lobster, lighthouses and L. L. Bean (O.K., make that four L’s). Here’s another: local. In recent years, this city on the coast of Maine has welcomed a wave of locavore restaurants, urban farms and galleries that feature local artists. Abandoned brick warehouses are being repurposed as eco-friendly boutiques. In the main square, a 19th-century building has been refashioned into a farmers’ market. And everywhere you look, this once-sleepy industrial town is showing signs of rejuvenation — usually by keeping things local.


4 p.m.

To see bohemian Portland, stroll down Congress Street, where at least a dozen galleries, studios and cafes have opened in recent years. David Marshall, a beret-wearing painter who moonlights as a city councilman, is among the artists who exhibit at Constellation Gallery (511 Congress Street; 207-409-6617;, which opened last year. His artsy friends can be found at Local Sprouts (649 Congress Street; 207-899-3529;, an earthy, community-supported cafe as crunchy as it sounds. Down the street is the Portland Public Library (5 Monument Square; 207-871-1700;, which recently revamped its gallery and added an atrium.

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