Consultant: Promise, problems along Portland's India Street

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PORTLAND — “Toothy” may seem an odd adjective to describe a city street, but it is one view consultant Michele Reeves shared about India Street in a 126-page report released Friday, Feb. 21.

Reeves was engaged by the city to outline development and identity strategies for the city’s oldest street. The report is a product of her observations and public input about the street and how to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood stretching from Congress to Commercial streets.

Reeves said India Street’s strengths include its history, its “great buildings,” waterfront access that draws visitors, and a strong local business presence including Micucci Wholesale Foods and Shipyard Brewery.

Reeves comes from the “other” Portland, in Oregon, where she works with Civilis Consultants. Her study was funded in part by Portland State University’s Urban Sustainability Accelerator.

The India Street neighborhood was also studied by Sustain Southern Maine last summer, and by a team from the University of California Davis as part of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator to create a sustainability plan for the neighborhood.

Last November, the City Council established the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee. The panel’s revitalization plan for City Council consideration is expected to be ready by June.

In remarks made Feb. 13 at SMRT Architects on Fore Street, Reeves defined growth stages of a street as “emerging, transition and mature,” and said the transition stage may have been bypassed on India Street.

“You guys are sort of leapfrogging that middle stage,” she said about how the neighborhood may not be getting the small infill of development to close building gaps while there is still some larger-scale development in the neighborhood.

“You are really most the way there,” she said. “A destination retail concept is what you have on India Street.”

A key to successful redevelopment will be bringing casual visitors who discover places, so the “toothy” look of gaps between buildings needs to be addressed, Reeves said. Filling the gaps, she added, will help visually as “the trail of crumbs that moves pedestrians.”

To help the process, Reeves suggested the city could amend parking regulations, give height bonuses for development, and not rush retail development in an area that may not be well travelled enough at this point to sustain it.

She added having wider, cleaner sidewalks will be a benefit, but partnerships with businesses to bring working people to the neighborhood is as critical so sidewalks will be used.

But the neighborhood also remains too dark and unwelcoming in some ways, she said, citing new hotels that seemed unwelcoming because curtains are drawn over first-floor windows, and there is not enough lighting on the street and from buildings.

“Street lights and building lights are the things that say ‘we are open for business,’” Reeves said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.