South Portland waterfront landowners ponder ferry service to Portland

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PORTLAND — There may soon be a new way to get from South Portland to Portland, and it won’t involve cable cars.

On April 12, Richard Packard, a new owner of the 30 acres of South Portland waterfront land once owned by developer John Cacoulidis, said passenger ferry service to Portland is under serious consideration.

“There is so much to explore,” Packard said April 12. “We are digging into it.”

Packard has left much of the land management at the site, which sits between Bug Light Park and Gulf Oil storage tanks, to his daughter, Jennifer, and son, David.

With Jennifer Packard away on business, Richard Packard said ferry service to the city boat launch at Bug Light Park is a use they will explore more intensively over the next month.

“At this time, it is totally conceptual,” he said, “They will rough out what they’d like to do as a first pass.”

Packard said a ferry could be an economic driver for future use of the undeveloped land, which extends from the water back toward Madison Street.

The Packards bought the land in November 2018, about four months after Cacoulidis died on July 23, 2018.

In 2001, Cacoulidis proposed a $900 million plan for the site, calling for two hotels with 2,600 rooms standing 635 feet tall that would be linked to Portland by cable cars crossing 300 feet above the harbor.

The idea never flew.

About a dozen years later, current Portland City Manager Jon Jennings, then the South Portland assistant city manager who oversaw economic development, eyed the land as a spot for outdoor concerts and festivals.

That proposal did not hit the right note with Cacouldis, who ultimately withdrew his permit applications in South Portland.

Jennings on April 11 said he is excited by the prospect of ferry service.

“It is a very intriguing idea we ought to explore,” he said at the end of a meeting of the Waterfront Working Group that had discussed traffic and parking along Commercial Street.

Portland continues to grapple with finding parking for marine-related uses and the expansion of business and commerce on its eastern waterfront. Jennings said the Portland Landing site along Commercial and Thames Street could serve as a city terminus, if the existing berths at the Casco Bay Lines Terminal are not used.

Jennings said ferry service could reduce traffic flow over the Casco Bay Bridge from South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. Packard agreed, and said plans would include plenty of parking.

“Having direct access to downtown Portland will have a direct bearing on what we build over here,” he added.

On Monday, Casco Bay Lines Director Hank Berg said he had met Jennifer Packard, but had not discussed ferry service with her.

“From our perspective, it is really too early to tell,” Berg said. “We know nothing about the idea, but we would be willing to talk to them.”

Aside from a business catalyst or a way to alleviate traffic congestion, Packard said the ferry could convey a fresher way to see the cities.

“In order for something like this to happen, there has to be an economic reason for it to happen,” he said. “But how much fun could it be to jump on a boat for a five-minute ride across the water?”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

It’s a short trip across the harbor between Portland and South Portland, where the the Packard family is envisioning passenger ferry service linking the two cities.

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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.