Maine State Pier plans fill Portland council workshop

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PORTLAND — As he prepares to depart the City Council, Councilor David Brenerman said Monday he wants some feedback on redeveloping the Maine State Pier and Portland Ocean Terminal on Commercial Street.

“The building has not been used to its fullest extent in years,” Brenerman said. “It is time to do something, so no one is looking at the same thing five years from now.”

Brenerman, who leads the council Economic Development Committee and is not seeking re-election to his District 5 seat, spoke at a City Hall workshop on the future of the pier, some of which is 85 years old.

The pier area includes the terminal building, the Casco Bay Lines Terminal, Compass Park, and ties into the adjacent queuing area for vehicles using the Cat ferry service to Nova Scotia.

Most immediately, Brenerman sought some council opinion on how to increase use of the Portland Ocean Terminal, which offers more than 120,000 square feet of space on two floors.

Waterfront Manager Bill Needelman said the terminal, which extends more than 900 feet and features the “Whaling Wall” painted in 1993 by the artist Robert Wyland, is now home to a variety of operations.

“Much of what is happening in the building would continue to happen,” Needelman said of its use to support cruise ship visits, storage for city equipment, tug boat berthing and as home to Ready Seafood.

City Facilities Manager Kathy Alves said the pier itself is holding up very well for its current uses.

“At this point, I have not seen anything that says ‘please fix me or I will cave in,’” she said.

While city staff continues to inventory, inspect and evaluate the pier area as a whole, they have also recommended bringing in an outside consultant “to provide an alternatives analysis for a more comprehensive rethinking of the (terminal) structure for both use and physical improvements,” according to Needelman’s Aug. 31 memo to the Economic Development Committee.

Alves and Needelman said interior alterations to the terminal could remove outdated mechanical systems and open up space for use, and they also envision a walkway built along the exterior wall facing the ferry terminal.

The walkway could also be fronted by retail spaces extending 16 feet to 20 feet into the terminal building.

Alves said staff would also like to limit traffic now coming into the pier area to commercial vehicles or those headed to the Casco Bay islands. It is possible that tearing down a smaller building housing mechanical systems near Commercial Street could then create space for pickups and drop-offs for buses and taxis.

Best use of the traffic area outside the ferry terminal is also a part of the ferry line’s expansion process. 

Councilors made decisions in the workshop, which did not include public comment, but were inclined to support marine-related use as much as possible in the area, including for potential retail development.

“There should be no incursion in the use of the pier for thousand-foot long ships,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said, while suggesting a master plan would be of use if it is not too expensive to create.

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

Portland city councilors on Monday learned about a two-pronged approach to enhancing economic growth at the Portland Terminal Building and Maine State Pier, seen Sept. 28.

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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.