Sometimes when I sit at my keyboard, I dream of things that might be. Why settle for elected mayor. I’d be king. Sure I would. That’s the ticket. And, with the help of a few stimulus dollars, Portland would be a little economic engine.
We would reorganize our transportation infrastructure. Starting with building a row of attractive high-rises along the Interstate 295 corridor. Like the new Intermed building. The first floors would be retail. The next four and the side facing the highway would be parking. The rest above would be office space.
Those who drive into the city would get off at the exit ramp and park. Sure, their view from the highway would be diminished, but who cares. From their garage would be bus service crisscrossing the city. The Narrow Gauge Railroad would circle the town.
No more working waterfront restrictions. The city and private property owners alike would be able to develop their property to its highest and best use. The waterfront would be developed from Veterans Memorial Bridge to Fort Allen Park. Including the Maine State Pier. It would be mixed use all the way. Traditional marine operations like fishing, shipping, marinas and ferry service alongside hotels, shops, restaurants and office space. There would be a promenade on the water and parks.
Instead of an expensive albatross around the neck of the city, the waterfront would be the center of its economy.
Congress Street would be mixed use, too. A few major chains to anchor the corridor at comfortable intervals (I’d even entertain one of those dreaded Hooter’s places) and then individually owned shops and restaurants, with office space above. We’d find a way to restore the old State Theater to grandeur, so that it would be a venue for local talent and smaller tours.
We’d OK a new Civic Center to replace the old one that’s grown a little long in the tooth. It would house our own minor league hockey and D-League basketball teams, while hosting bigger events.
We would celebrate the arts in all their many forms. Theater at Portland Stage and St. Lawrence Arts Center. We’d lure Maine State Ballet back to the city, where it belongs, so that we could boast being the only city of 65,000 to have two great ballet companies.
In February, we would conduct a contest among our many outstanding chefs, a la “Iron Chef,” to get people out of the house in the winter, to crown a champion for the rest of the year, and to promote and support our fabulous restaurants.
In the warmer weather, we would expand the weekly First Friday art walks to get people circulating so that they work up an appetite while supporting our artists.
We would host a Casco Bay regatta and get some of those sailors in town, spending their money.
The property and sales tax revenue that these developments would generate would allow us to reduce our tax rates and fund a variety of improvements and services. People would relocate to our city for its quality of life. We would rebuild some of our housing stock with mixed income buildings.
We would still have great schools. But only five elementary schools on the mainland, three middle schools and two high schools. We would replace the East End Community School with something more attractive to occupy such a prominent place in our community. Clifford would be sold for condos.
The new police chief would get Tasers for his force.
We would restore Deering Oaks so that State Street no longer bisects the park.
The Public Library would get a building that has all the charm of the old Public Market and more space.
City Council meetings would last two hours and not a minute longer. We would reduce the number of advisory committees and boards, comprehensive plans, planning sessions and community forums. There would be no dissension, second-guessing and bitter recrimination.
And then I snap out of it and remember that I live in a democracy called Portland.
Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.