Council seeks public input on pier, makes no promises
PORTLAND — City staff will schedule a new round of public input sessions on the future of the Maine State Pier, following direction Monday from the City Council.
While councilors supported the idea of getting citizen input on how the city-owned pier should be redeveloped, they also said it should be made clear that at the end of the day, the decision is the council's.
"Make that clear to the public," Councilor Nick Mavodones said. "We need to be cognizant of not giving people false expectations."
It has been six weeks since a second prospective pier developer, Ocean Properties, pulled out of negotiations to rehabilitate and redevelop the aging pier. Since the $160 million project was called off, the city also received new estimates for how much repairs to the pier will cost.
According to a cost assessment from engineer Jason Gallant of the Louis Berger Group, rehabilitating the pier will cost between $22 million and $26 million – not the $18 million figure the city had been using.
The public input series is expected to begin in mid-March, city Planner Bill Needelman said. He said he expects to schedule an initial forum where the history, policies and the current state of the pier will be presented. The introductory meeting will be followed by two panel discussions; one focused on the marine economy and the other with a more local focus. The final meeting will be a community workshop.
Needelman said staff would take the information from the public and put it into a presentation for the council. The process is expected to take about eight weeks.
Councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue were enthusiastic about the city engaging the public. Marshall said it was the "best path forward."
Others, like Councilor Dan Skolnik, expressed disappointment in not having a specific plan lined up for the pier, or a developer.
"This is a booby prize, this is not a silver lining," Skolnik said, "and we are the boobies."
The council also decided to go into executive session following its Monday workshop to discuss possible litigation with the state over who has title to the submerged lands under the pier. City Attorney Gary Wood urged the council to move swiftly if it wants to pursue litigation.
"We should not wait until we put it out there for proposals again and run into this issue with the lease again," Wood said. The state leases submerged land for 30 years at a time, and developers have said it is difficult to get financing for a project that carries such a short lease.
However, some councilors dismissed the submerged land dispute as a problem. Mayor Jill Duson said the lease issue that ended negotiations with The Olympia Cos. was a "red herring."
"Other communities have done just fine with 30-year leases," Duson said.