Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Groups seeks to make "inert" state pier "interactive"
By Matt Dodge
Mar 09, 2011 12:00 am

A city arts group is moving forward with plans to explore a mixed-arts use for the Maine State Pier while admitting that such uses do not mesh with the city's vision of a "working waterfront" for the deep-water berth.

Why? Largely because no one has told them not to.

“We kept waiting for ‘no’ to be the answer, and we never got ‘no’ so we were encouraged,” said Patrick Costin, a member of Creative Portland and principal of architecture and planning firm Canal 5 Studio.

Costin said that while the city might not support such a venture, exploring the idea couldn’t hurt and doesn't run counter to any other plans currently in place for the Casco Bay landmark.

“The city council perspective is not consistent with this type of use for the pier," he conceeded. "But based on what we know there are no alternative options available that will lead anywhere for pier redevelopment at the current time.”

’We want to open it [the pier] up to the world. Right now it’s nothing but a gigantic wall separating you from views of Casco Bay — it’s an inert object, we want it to be an interactive object,” he said.

Two years after a failed development deal which would have transformed the 88-year-old pier, Creative Portland is proposing a mixed arts use model based on an idea from the Land Down Under.

Adelaide, Australia’s "Jam Factory" converted a former factory into a contemporary craft and design facility for the design, production, exhibition and sale of work by leading and emerging Australian designers and craftspeople. Operating for the last 37 years, the facility has studios space for ceramics, furniture, metal and glass work, as well as a retail space where artists can market their wares.

“They had a similar concept that was very successful,” said Costin.

Costin said the Creative Portland committee tasked with the pier project has done a lot of research into the space, meeting with the city planning department and familiarizing themselves with past and current zoning frameworks and city policy with regards to Portland’s vision for the pier.

“We looked into — if there were an opportunity to introduce an arts component — how that would materialize in terms of zoning or changes to current zoning and [there’s] nothing in the way from a zoning standpoint,” said Costin. “Now the next step is to do a walk-through of the pier, that would help us become more informed on the condition and configuration of the space,” he said.

But city councilor Dave Marshall, the council member appointed to the Creative Portland board, said that the group might discover a real dearth of public support as the idea evolves.

“We've had a lot of extensive process around future uses for the pier and there wasn't a strong public movement at the time calling for this to be predominately used for arts-related purposes,” said Marshall.

Issue of public desire aside, Marshall said, the pier features some working waterfront-specific amenities like its deep-water berth which would be underutilized in a mixed arts use.

“There’s a limit to the the amount of deep-water berthing available in the city," said Marshall. "Arts uses can really exists anywhere in the city, and there has been discussion in the past of having uses on the pier that were not directly related to berthing, but those were uses related to very high income tenants,” he said.

While Marshall said the council has not taken a definitive position of the issue, he senses little support. “Nothing that the council said would necessarily outright prohibit an arts-related use, and I wouldn't say that this discussion is off the table, but it is a bit of a stretch,” he said.

With 30,000 square feet of class C office space across two levels, Costin said the pier facility is uniquely suited for the mixed-arts use concept. “It would appear to align well with type of space we’re looking for, which is affordable, small studio space for artists to work in,” he said.

The pier’s location in a tourism-heavy district and proximity to the city’s cruise ship terminal could be another important asset for a mixed use arts space, according to Costin. “There would be the opportunity for an art event to occur on the lower level during the height of the summer season so you would have cruise ship and island visitor traffic at its peak,” he said.

The idea for a mixed use arts space at the pier was first explored when an ad-hoc committee was formed to propose a project for an National Endowment for the Arts grant, but the committee eventually decided to put their support for the $250,000 NEA grant behind a proposal for a outdoor video screen for the Portland Public Library.

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