Full Portland Co. development could take a decade

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PORTLAND — New development on 10 acres of eastern waterfront property is likely a year away, Portland Co. co-owner Jim Brady said Feb. 19.

“It takes a number of months of work at a minimum before you can even make a site plan application,” Brady said after the City Council approved designating a portion of the land at 58 Fore St. as a local historic district.

Brady said he would like to see first-phase plans ready by the end of the year so work could begin in early 2017.

Before any plans are submitted, Brady and his partners, Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, who operate as CPB2, will first arrange to buy a sliver of city-owned land at the southwestern edge of the property. The parcel will be cut off when the city extends Thames Street at 90 degrees to connect to Fore Street near the building occupied by Hamilton Marine at 100 Fore St.

“It is a critical element because it is the main entry to the site,” Brady said.

The historic district designation includes four acres and eight buildings originally used for the manufacture of locomotives, rolling stock and other railroad-related items, as well as a former foundry. The approval came after about two hours of public comment that largely centered on the fate of “Building No. 1.”

Built in 1918, the former shop was seen as a “contributing” building within the zone by members of the Historic Preservation Board when it forwarded the Portland Co. nomination for historic status to the Planning Board in June 2015.

“It should be noted the Portland Co. is highly significant as a complex and not for any one building,” HPB member John Turk said. “It is a collection of structures, each contributing to a large-scale manufacturing process.”

As such, CPB2 would have needed HPB approval to tear the building down. But Planning Board members disagreed with HPB’s recommendation for Building No. 1, as did city councilors on Feb. 17.

In approving the historic zone, the council rejected an amendment from Councilor Belinda Ray to restore Building No. 1 to contributing status. Ray and Mayor Ethan Strimling voted for the amendment.

It has been nearly three years since Brady, Prentice and Costello bought the Portland Co. land from Phineas Sprague Jr. In that time, the land has had three zoning designations. CPB2 development plans were also targeted in a failed November 2015 referendum question that would have added more zoning restrictions.

Brady, Costello and Prentice supported the historic designation recommended by the Planning Board and approved by councilors, and will provide an easement on the site of Building No. 1 that will extend from Fore Street to the waterfront.

“What we thought we could do was offer the city some greater benefit basically in exchange for the ability not to have to save the building,” Brady said.

The Portland Co. complex was identified as “the only intact ninteenth and early twentieth century industrial complex remaining in the city,” according to a 2014 report by Sutherland Conservation & Consulting.

The historic district does not encompass all the buildings on the property and, within the district, four buildings are considered noncontributing and can be torn down without HPB review.

Brady said the mixed-use development could take as long as a decade to come to fruition. CPB2 will be required to submit a master plan and individual site plans to the Planning Board, although master and site plans can be submitted simultaneously.

“We think it is highly likely the first phase would include the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the buildings in the historic core,” Brady said.

Plans for the second phase will be determined by the market, he said.

“It is unclear when the second phase may begin because it is contingent on the success of a first phase,” Brady said. “It could follow from three years to 10 years out.”

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

A conceptual sketch of first-phase development at the Portland Co. at 58 Fore St., Portland, shows the easement developers granted to the city for public access to the waterfront.

Building No. 1 at 58 Fore St., which dates to 1918, can be torn down by the owners of the Portland Co. as part of any development plans.

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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.