Developers see Thompson's Point as 'world-class gateway' to Portland

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PORTLAND — Developers on April 27 unveiled a $100 million plan to build an events center, hotel and office buildings and nature trail at Thompson’s Point.

The Forefront at Thompson’s Point is expected to become the new home of the Maine Red Claws basketball team and will include a medium-sized concert hall.

The project is being undertaken by the Thompson’s Point Development Co., whose managing partners include two of the Red Claws’ 15 co-owners, Jon Jennings and William Ryan Jr., as well as Lewiston-based developer Chris Thompson of Parallax Partners.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. introduced the project Thursday to a standing-room-only crowd in the State of Maine Room at City Hall.

“The project will dramatically change the landscape of a blighted, industrial site into a marquis destination along a cherished waterway,” Mavodones said.

Plans include nearly a half-dozen buildings, a nature trail and a landing for paddle boats on the 25-acre property on the Fore River.

Phase one would include a 48,000-square-foot events center that could accommodate 3,500 people for sporting events, including Red Claws games. A mezzanine lounge and bar are planned, and eight to 10 luxury boxes.

A 32,000-square foot, 4,500-seat concert hall is also planned, as well as two Class A office buildings totalling 180,000-square feet, a 125-room hotel, 700-car parking garage and restaurants.

Jennings said the event center would be the largest north of Boston, and the concert hall would provide a medium-sized music venue, which the region now lacks.

The State Theatre and Merrill Auditorium each seat about 2,000 people, while the Cumberland County Civic Center can accommodate 7,000 people at concerts.

Jennings also touted the anticipated economic benefits of the project.

According to an economic impact analysis by Charles Lawton of Planning Decisions, the project is expected to inject $169 million into the local economy during construction, including $49 million in wages for about 1,230 jobs.

Once established and operational, the development is expected to generate another $31.3 million in new sales for Maine businesses, including $11 million in wages for 455 jobs.

Jennings said the company hopes to have permits for the project by the end of this year and begin construction in early 2012. The center could be fully operational in late 2013 or early 2014.

Ryan said the group has not yet closed its acquisition of the property, which was listed for $9.9 million. The sale is contingent on the project receiving planning and building permits and approvals, he said.

There are about a dozen businesses now on the property. Ryan said the leases held by those businesses will likely be terminated before the sale is complete. The sellers are still in talks with one occupant, Suburban Propane, about that company’s future, he said.

Jennings said the development will be privately funded by investors and commercial lenders. But the group is pursuing a tax break from the city, through a tax increment financing district.

“It would be very difficult, almost impossible, to do this without a TIF,” Jennings said, noting improvements to a rail crossing alone are expected to cost $1 million.

As of April 28, the private investment group included William Ryan Sr., Steve Griswold, Steve Goodrich, Jed Troubh, Ken Troubh, Matt Landolfi, Thompson and Ryan Jr.

Mavodones said city councilors will give serious consideration to a TIF request, provided there is a benefit to local residents and the economy.

Jennings said the project location is ideal: next to Interstate 295, the Portland International Jetport and the Portland Transportation Center, which is the nexus for the Amtrak Downeaster and Concord Trailways.

Jennings said the group is working with bus and rail officials to further develop the Transportation Center. The proposed development shows a large parking lot on the western-most portion of land that would be used as overflow parking, he said.

“This is, in our opinion, a true transit-oriented development,” Jennings said. “The proximity to Amtrak (and) Concord Trailways, we feel this is an absolute key to the overall success.”

The operator of the Downeaster, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, meanwhile, is about to undertake a year-long study that could lead to moving its operations to West Commercial Street.

The authority is looking for a way to accommodate northbound service to Brunswick, while placing its hub in an area that allows passengers to disembark at a destination.

NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the proposed development at Thompson’s Point seems to address the latter concern. The development plan was released in time for it to be included in the study that is expected to get underway in the next few weeks, she said.

“This definitely puts something different things in the mix,” Quinn said.

Neil Pratt, chairman of the Cumberland County Civic Center Board of Trustees, said he is excited about the Thompson’s Point development plan.

Pratt said he does not believe it will affect operations or events at the civic center, or the county’s efforts to win voter approval in November for what is expected to be a $25 million renovation bond.

“The more economic activity in the region the better,” Pratt said. “The region can sustain, in my view, a successful development at Thompson’s Point and a successful renovation of the (civic center) facility and will make this region more of a destination point going forward.”

Ryan said the project would greatly improve the first impression people get when they fly, drive or ride into Portland.

“A world-class city like Portland deserves a world-class gateway,” he said. “And that’s what we intend to build.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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Chris Thompson, left, William Ryan Jr. and Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr.  listen on April 27 at City Hall as Jon Jennings of the Maine Red Claws introduces the proposed Forefront at Thompson’s Point development.

A rendering by Portland-based Archetype Architects of the planned Forefront at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

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