Letter: Portland waterfront project 'a nonstarter'

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In its winning bid to build a cold-storage warehouse in Portland, Americold Logistics promised “a showpiece facility … (in) harmony with the local surroundings.”

But now Americold wants to erect the largest eyesore to ever call the city home: a box 68 feet tall, spanning almost three acres at the gateway to Portland’s waterfront.

You have to admire Americold’s chutzpah, proposing to build 55 percent higher than zoning allows on land it will lease, perhaps for close to nothing, from us Mainers. City staff wants to give Americold the bonus height with a zoning “text change.”

For Americold, it makes perfect sense to push the zoning envelope. After all, its cold-storage customers are focused on what’s inside the building. And its owners, led by the Los Angeles private equity firm of multi-billionaire Ron Burkle, are focused on profit.

Economic development is laudable, but City Hall is giving away the store to Burkle.

The problem with a 45-foot warehouse in Portland is not profitability, or sufficient size to serve the International Marine Terminal, but rather that Americold wants to shift trucked product from its Read Street warehouse to this site, which is zoned solely for port-related uses.

When chasing the holy grail of economic development in past decades, Portland has made judgment errors, often irreparable, that supporters considered faultless. This could happen today with Americold’s titanic warehouse. The Planning Board will be discussing the height increase Tuesday, Jan. 24, at City Hall. They should tell Americold the proposal is a nonstarter.

Mark McCain